Morrissey at The Theatre AT Madison Square Garden, Saturday, December 2nd, 2017, Reviewed
“It could be a long and tolerable night. No I meant for you, not for me. I’m OK. I mean, I see me every day and it’s not that interesting.” What was most interesting about Morrissey’s fine concert last night at the Theatre At Madison Square Garden was how unexceptional it was. After courting more controversy than Noel and Liam combined, he more or less held his tongue. Perhaps it’s New York, the man who sang “We look to Los Angeles for the language we use,” doesn’t show Manhattan much love. On January 1st 1984, the Smiths first show in the States was a seven song set at Danceteria but since then Moz has had a jaundiced indifference to the market safe in the knowledge he can sell it out whenever he wants to. That was then, last night he had even removed “Meat Is Murder” with its terrifying film of cows being slaughtered at an abattoir, replaced with the much less graphic “The Bullfighter Dies” Hell, he didn’t even take off his cardigan till the end.
The former Smith(sonian of all cultural artifacts sixties) even hit the stage at a punctual 830pm and performed for a reasonable 90 minutes, pushing his second subpar album in a row, Low In High School, while picking and choosing through a terrific selection of past hits and misses; the ones that should do the job, the “How Soon Is Now,” “I Started Something I Can’t Finish,” “Glamorous Glue,” Speedway” and more, did just that, greatly appreciated by the audience (though they remained seated for the majority of the show, that was probably because all the MozHeads were in the General Admission pit), and while the set lost steam with a handful of duds before the encore, he recovered for the finale.
We expect more from Moz than business as usual but we don’t get it very often. This was as advertised, the exceptional unexceptional. Steven didn’t hang his DJ who segued from Sly And The Family Stone’s “Family Affair” to the Pretenders (Chrissie Hynde was the hidden star of the evening) “Day After Day,” with a smart and steady classic rock hand, before the usual videos from the 1960s and early 1970s, including the New York Dolls, for some strange reason,a young Alain Delon dying in black and white, and the long forgotten Sapphic duo T.A.T.U. covering “How Soon Is Now”.
Moz has been opening his set with an Elvis Presley song off Girl Happy (which I reviewed back in May 2016 “Some of the songs are better than you’d expect, “You’ll Be Gone”, which didn’t appear in the movie, is a very dramatic Cole Porter steal written by Elvis and two members of the Memphis Mafia.”) and the thing is, Morrissey has an affinity with Presley at his hausfrau amoring best, they are both baritone busting hot to trot overkills of the first order. Whatever you wanna say about Morrissey in 2017, the man still has that voice that changed UK pop music midstream back in the 1980s. But it gets a little loss as he courts controversy. Yes, Moz is outspoken but he isn’t always wrong. Freedom of speech is definably freedom to say unpopular things and while Kevin Spacey’s future would end up being a privileged asshole abusing his position of power, that wasn’t quite true of Kevin’s first documented case of attempted rape. According to Vulture, the victim: “First met Spacey in 1981, when the actor was a guest teacher at a weekend acting class he took in Westchester County; he was then a 12-year-old student. Spacey was 22 and working in the New York theater scene. They met again by chance in line at Shakespeare in the Park in 1983, when the student was 14 years old; Spacey had made his Broadway debut in Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts the year prior. After that meeting, he says, Spacey gave him his phone number, and the two began a sexual relationship.” Morrissey’s “the kid knew what was getting himself into” comment is a self-evident truth -that’s how the story actually plays out (the probably was Spacey tried to force him into anal sex). Gary Indiana once got into boatloads of trouble for claiming that an older man mentoring a teenage boy, including sexually, is not NECESSARILY evil, maybe it is pure evil but is a different opinion not even worth mentioning? Does the name Plato mean nothing? In both Islamic society and among the ancient Greeks, it is practically a rite of passage. The US is a bizarre mix of extremes right now, so bad that you can’t even think differently. Protecting children from their childhood is fine except when it is fascism, you can’t inoculate children from life and you can’t tell teenagers what is good and what is wrong: they are at the height of their sexual libido and hysteria doesn’t help anybody.
But I transgress.
The band were competent, maybe a little more, they were certainly where they should be, and while Morrissey was a little on the quiet side, he was still a concentrated force of high umbrage hard rock songs with sometimes great polemics, and sometimes not. It opened with a rush of solid songs, headed towards “I Started Something I Can’t Finish,” Glamorous Glue,” and the disliked by many but not by me “Jacky’s Only Happy When She’s On Stage”. Co-written by former Polecat (not to mention Saint Kirsty McColl’s guitarist), Boz Boorer. Boz co-wrote four songs on the current Low In High School -the rest of the song’s music was written by other members of the band. Anyway, the song isn’t much and isn’t much, and then you reach the coda, “Everyone’s heading for the exit, Brexit,” and it jumps up in value and becomes a real keeper. Next is the completely brilliant “Speedway,” which includes a dramatic change in lead singers and from English (or do I mean Los Angelesian) to Spanish. Morrissey really performs the song, his body language is all gestures, and recriminations and finger pointing.
I mentioned Chrissie earlier, “who is in an asylum” Steven jokes, and his version of “Back On The Chain Gang” is straightforward enough to wonder why he bothered but not painful. And then the set drags a little, not terrible, he doesn’t lose us but we are just a bit maladjusted. You keep on thinking of songs you’d prefer to close the set proper with then “Home Is A Question Mark” and “You’ll Be Sorry”. How about “Maladjusted” itself, and “Ask” or “I Will See You In Far Away Places” and “The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get”? I mean, if he has to double up on Vauxhall And I….
The encore, “Suedehead” and “Shoplifters Of The World Unite,” now known as “Cat Lovers Of The World Unite” -no, not really, that was the tee shirt on a guy sitting in front of me, a step up from yesterday’s “Stay Calm And Carry A Gun” (and the difference between the red states and the blue states made simple), anyway “Trump Shifters Of The World Unite”. Which would be a lot more fun if it meant anything at all.
So, good for Moz: a pleasant, unassuming, strong and competent performance. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and if he can’t change either lives or minds any more, he can still sing very well.