See also: Our Morrissey slideshow
Morrissey & Kristeen Young
The Shrine Auditorium
Better than ... walking down Hoover in a blue-&-gold Bruins shirt after the big game.
For a person who once famously declared that he was celibate, Steven Patrick Morrissey is clearly too sexy for his body these days, showing a more relaxed and playfully campy attitude about being a pinup hero. In the past, this cultured contrarian just needed words to shock people, but now he's willing to take it all off, either to demystify himself before his overly worshipful fans or simply because he's proud of his hot body.
After thousands of those overly worshipful fans negotiated the airport-like security lines and aggressive pat-downs outside the Shrine Auditorium, they wandered past a different type of shrine just inside the front doors of the majestic Moorish-style theater. The merch booth was stacked with prized baubles and modern-day religious icons ranging from "I Only Swerve for Morrissey" bumper stickers to cute T-shirts with a picture of Him with a cat perched on His head.
But what really stood out was the life-size autographed cardboard cutout of the singer, who was naked except for a seven-inch (record) placed coyly over his private parts. Also available for sale was a $10 poster of that recent black-&-white photo where this charming man is lolling nude in a bathtub and licking his lips suggestively.
Ironically, the former Smiths frontman didn't take off his shirt Saturday night and toss it into the crowd as he normally does. But he had other ways of provoking his followers at this unusual and ultimately kind of defiant concert. First among them was Kristeen Young, Moz's longtime protégée and opener on this tour.
You've got to hand it to Young. Given the single-minded focus and almost-slavish devotion of Morrissey's fans, it couldn't have been easy to open for him, especially considering her aggressively adventurous style of music. Young's songs have a Kate Bush ethereality and melodicism caged inside of an intense Nina Hagen artiness, with the St. Louis native alternated between madhouse piano accents and rolling waves of hard-edged synth. Young was dressed up in a typically outlandish outfit, which looked like a noirish grey 1940s suit that had exploded into a Patti LaBelle flashback
, with a tombstone-size right shoulder pad. The end was torn from one of her black elbow-length gloves, revealing a white ribbon-like bandage around her left hand.
Young did everything she could to entertain the polite assembly, strutting smartly back and forth in the moving spotlight. She chirped an angular melody amid the synthesized chaos of "Fantastic Failure" and fell to the ground and crawling along the edge of the stage during "Touch Tongues." She neatly duplicated that manic-depressive sinking feeling in the stomach with her roller-coaster synth plunges on the title track of her V the Volcanic EP, while the melodramatic ballad "Everybody Wants Me to Cry" sounded like it could be a classic torch song from any era.
Young has been kicked off previous Morrissey tours for making cheeky comments about her mentor/tormentor's sexual prowess, but she barely had time to say much at the Shrine before she was whisked off the stage. The last chord of her last song was still ringing as the backdrop screen began pulsing with images from some of Morrisey's favorite films and videos, including vintage footage of the Shocking Blue, Brigitte Bardot and Serge Gainsbourg, Sparks and the New York Dolls.
It was a pretty groovy mix, but it also pointed out one of the prime contradictions in the mostly love/love relationship between Morrissey and his fans.
Many of his acolytes regard him as a virtual god while stubbornly ignoring his most passionate (and perhaps paternal) advice. Even the non-vegetarians in the audience appeared to respect the sentiment behind having a PETA information table in the lobby, but the majority of the crowd didn't pay attention to the rare videos and only came to life once Moz, attired in blue jeans and a shiny brown long-sleeve shirt, and his five-piece band walked on stage to the sound of church bells.
Instead of relying on old Smiths standards or even his better-known solo hits, Morrissey led the group through a challenging and unpredictable set list. "Quando? Quando? Quando?" Morrissey demanded before opening with the uptempo energy of "I Want the One I Can't Have" and its jauntily rocking thematic counterpoint, "You're the One for Me, Fatty." His distinctive mournful croon was unbroken all night and sounded strong even under the echoing acoustics of the Shrine's high ceiling.
After the first four songs, Morrissey introduced a stirring version of the romantically rueful "Black Cloud." Other early highlights included the acoustic thrum of "When Last I Spoke to Carol" (featuring Gustavo Manzur's evocative spaghetti Western trumpet solo), the jangled tangle of "Alma Matters" and the convulsively mesmerizing throb of the heavy rocker "Maladjusted."
"Are you sure you wouldn't rather be down the street with the Chicago Bears or whatever the hell they're called?" Morrissey taunted, referring to the USC Trojans' annual ritualistic slaughter of the UCLA Bruins, which was happening simultaneously at the nearby Coliseum.
The most chilling moment came next, during an apocalyptic punk rock performance of the landmark Smiths animal-rights anthem "Meat Is Murder," one of the few oldies in the set. Morrissey's voiced seared and soared through the fog reproachfully like a vengeful angel while drummer Matthew Walker hammered down stark, abrasive accents. Boz Boorer's and Jesse Tobias' frantic, squealing guitars matched the heartbreaking and horrific footage of slaughtered and tortured cattle projected on the screen. A woman in the row behind me giggled nonstop throughout the song, perhaps as a nervous reaction.
When the awesome storm subsided, Morrissey finally spoke. "You know where you can shove Thanksgiving," he said, making the word "Thanksgiving" sound more like "Fangskilling."
A contrastingly gentle and beautiful cover of Lou Reed's "Satellite of Love" followed, imbued by Morrissey's warm baritone, although a little rage resurfaced when he practically spat out an adlib, "I cannot stand the TV." The sound of motorcycles launched a rendition of "I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris," and then he introduced a new tune: "I may look pitiful, but 'Action Is My Middle Name.'"
The delicate piano beginning blossomed into a reflective '60s-style pop ballad, where Morrissey warned that "Everybody has a date with an undertaker" and "You are my possession/You don't realize it yet." A ghostly sigh of Manzur's keyboards gave "Action Is My Middle Name" an appropriately haunting ending.
"The people of Egypt and Syria are the real leaders of the world. People have the power," Morrissey said to kick off the soaring, jubilant riffs of another new one, "People Are the Same Everywhere." The song was simultaneously exultant and sarcastic, with such lyrics as, "The land of the free and the home of the brave exists nowhere." A slow, spare and especially sad version of "I Know It's Over" led to the set-closing "Speedway."
The band returned for an encore, with Morrissey still buttoning up a new dark shirt. They played just one song, "Still Ill," capped by an angry, extended heavy-metal-style rave-up, perhaps because Moz grew tired of the procession of fanatics who began jumping onstage or running out from the wings near the end of the concert to try to hug him. As they were dragged away by bouncers, the acolytes reached back toward their idol, twisting their free limbs in comically pathetic desperation, as if he were a faith healer at one of those old Shrine religious revivals. And maybe he was.
Personal bias: I'd much rather hear a good songwriter take a chance on his new songs than coast on his oldies.
The crowd: A mix of all ages (including one open-minded guy with both Smiths and Suicidal Tendencies patches sewn on his jacket), and a typically strong turnout from Moz's fervent Latino base. Dressed-to-kill death-rock zombies glared sullenly in the lobby, while drunken USC students in sweaters swaggered past them obliviously. When the show was over, the Morrissey crowd merged with the Coliseum's exiting football crowd, further blurring and confusing lines of definition.
Set list below.
1) I Want the One I Can't Have
2) You're the One for Me, Fatty
3) You Have Killed Me
4) When Last I Spoke to Carol
5) Black Cloud
7) Alma Matters
8) Ouija Board, Ouija Board
9) Meat Is Murder
10) Satellite of Love
11) I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris
12) Action Is My Middle Name
13) All the Lazy Dykes
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14) People Are the Same Everywhere
15) I Know It's Over
17) Still Ill (encore)