The audience swelled into a crowded concert hall at The Anthem to welcome their hero, Steven Patrick Morrissey, who greeted them with humble smiles and vigorous handshakes from the stage. In town to promote Low in High School, his 11th studio album released last month via BMG, Morrissey was in very good spirits, which made his 22-song set rather quite enjoyable.
For my money, some of the best songs in the set hailed from the new album, particularly those with a welcome glam sound to them. Songs like “I Wish You Lonely,” “Jacky’s Only Happy When She’s Up on the Stage,” and “All the Young People Must Fall in Love” are great guitar sounds with bellowing riffs and catchy choruses. It’s no wonder, given those were co-written by Morrissey’s longtime musical director Boz Boorer, whose own taste in guitar music dovetails nicely with Morrissey’s penchant for glam and rockabilly.
The same day as the DC show, Morrissey dropped a video for “Jacky’s Only Happy When She’s Up on the Stage,” a very good if typical song by the singer-songwriter that deals in searching for meaning and being disappointed with the result. The video captures Morrissey as he now appears in performance, swaying side to side, dancing a bit of a two-step, and lashing his microphone cord like a whip.
Watch the official music video for “Jacky’s Only Happy When She’s Up on the Stage” by Morrissey on YouTube:
Some folks have guessed the song is an allegory for Brexit, but it’s truly a good song that derives inspiration from Morrissey’s musical loves. Before his show, Morrissey plays a reel of roughly 30 minutes of various music that he would like to share with the audience, and as usual the reel revealed the New York Dolls in performance during their early ’70s heyday. And so it was that “Jackie,” a character that appears in their “Jet Boy” song may have given Morrissey a name rather than the speculative “Union Jack.” As Boz said to some folks (including me) the night before the show, “If we were to write a song about Brexit, you would know it.”
Morrissey opened the show on Thursday with a cover of Elvis Presley’s “You’ll Be Gone,” which suited his croon very well. And he got folks excited quickly with a rendition of “I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish” by his former band The Smiths. He broke up the songs from the new album with some of his strongest and most memorable solo tunes with the likes of “Speedway” and “Glamorous Glue.”
Near the halfway point in the show, Morrissey offered a very theatric performance of “How Soon Is Now?,” where he appeared to emphasize the longing and pain in the song with occasional exclamations that gave the very familiar song a slightly different flavor. Drummer Matthew Ira Walker shined throughout the song and especially in its final moment, when he beat on a large bass drum and finally a gong to wrap the song at the end. The number was a wonderfully crafted piece of showmanship that made everyone on stage look and sound very good.
Immediately after, Morrissey to my surprise played “World Peace Is None of Your Business,” the title track to his discontinued last album, which sunk under a quarrel with his label. But the song again is a very Morrissey selection, particularly given his politics and his contrarian views and distrust of political systems. Its performance fielded a very nice turn by Spanish language portion by keyboardist Gustavo Manzur, who sings a chorus in Spanish at the end. Morrissey bowed to Gustavo in thanks when he finished, and Gustavo himself seemed so proud to share the moment with his boss that he was practically bursting with fulfillment.
The last half of the show began with a delightful cover of “Back on the Chain Gang” by The Pretenders, which Morrissey sang earnestly, his rich voice imbuing the words with a freshness that made it as exciting to hear as it was in the fall of 1982. Morrissey followed that up with the biting “Spent the Day in Bed,” the new album’s excellent first single, which proved to be quite an appealing live number.
Before reaching the end of the set, Morrissey sang crowd-pleaser “Everyday Is Like Sunday” from his well-loved debut solo album, Viva Hate. He would return to that album for “Suedehead,” which also had a giddy audience singing along in a fervor, in the encore. And Morrissey closed the entire show with The Smiths’ “Shoplifters of the World Unite,” except he changed the lyrics to “Trumpshifters of the World Unite” to take a knock at Donald Trump (who appeared as a baby in Moz’s arms on the screen in an adaptation of the cover to his album Years of Refusal).
And toward the end of the show, Morrissey dealt with a few stage invaders, one who received a friendly embrace and another who was tossed back by guards. In an action that captured his truly transcendental mood, Morrissey took a vinyl album from a fan in the center of the crowd and signed a lengthy personal message on it. Moz admirers were cheering their hearts out over the very personable act, which left everyone with a smile on their faces.
So good was Morrissey’s performance, and so high were his spirits and those of his audience, a second encore seemed entirely likely. And the lights held down and the last notes echoed for a painfully long moment before everything stopped and the lights came up.
Morrissey resumes his tour tonight, Dec. 4, in Philadelphia, and he has only one more US date in Boston on Dec. 7 prior to a UK tour beginning in February. Go see him, and revisit the wit and talent that hooked you in the first place, particularly with Morrissey’s strong new material.