To be honest, I wasn't terribly familiar with Morrissey going into his show last night at the State Theatre, but consider me a Moz convert: the Smiths frontman-turned-solo artist delivered an airtight 90-minute set last night at the State Theatre that sped up, slowed and swelled in all the right places.
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From the very beginning of his set, I was struck by the careful consideration that had been put into every element of the show. Each of Morrissey's five band members were dressed in matching red and white plaid button-up shirts and jeans, hair slicked back like a gang of greasers. The stage was flanked with two bouncers dressed in all black, an addition that seemed puzzling at first given that we were in a pristine theater, but made sense toward the end of the show (more on that later). And the back of the stage hung a giant mural of a shirtless sailor smoking a cigar, the word "Refusal" tattooed across his chest.
At the center of it all was Morrissey, a dynamic performer who bantered easily with the audience and somehow managed to be simultaneously gracious and flippant. "Are you sorry you came?" he asked coyly toward the beginning of his set. "You will be."
The set seemed to ebb and flow between audience favorites, old classics, and songs from his new album, Year of Refusal, and really only dragged at one or two places for only a moment at time. Highlights included "How Soon is Now?," "Irish Blood, English Heart," "How Could Anybody Possibly Know How I Feel?," I'm Ok By Myself," and the climax of the evening, "Death of a Disco Dancer," which began slowly and dramatically and ended with a crashing gong, pulsating guitars, and strobe lights consuming every inch of the theater.
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In a time when men showing their emotions musically often end up in genres like twee and emo, Morrissey is a refreshing change of pace. His music is relentlessly confessional and almost theatrically dramatic, but he still manages to come across as a total badass; a macho man with a sensitive side. During "Let Me Kiss You," he sang the line "But then you open your eyes and you see someone that you physically despise" before ripping his shirt off, mopping his sweaty chest with it, and tossing it out into the rabid crowd that had gathered at the front of the stage. (He went through three shirts total in only an hour and a half, two of which ended up in the crowd.) And between songs, he teased the audience with a cool indifference that was surprisingly endearing.
"Moz, how's the baby?" one woman asked nervously, giggling after being handed his microphone.
"Why do you laugh?" Morrissey deadpanned. "I take my baby very seriously."
The audience seemed excited throughout the entire set, but by the end a few of the fans up front descended into complete chaos. As Moz returned for an encore ("First of the Gang to Die"), several different young men hopped up onto the stage, only to be immediately ensnared by a series of black-clad security guards and tossed back down to the floor. It was unclear what the stage-crawlers wanted, but it appeared that they just wanted to fight -- at one point a young man hopped up on the stage and grabbed a bouncer around the shoulders, and the two of them fell head first into the crowd. It was an odd end to an otherwise fairly calm theater show, but Morrissey just smiled, shook hands with the front row, and finished his song. Business as usual, I guess.
Here's the complete set list from last night's show
This Charming Man
How Soon Is Now?
Irish Blood, English Heart
When Last I Spoke to Carol
How Could Anybody Possibly Know How I Feel?
I Keep Mine Hidden
Let Me Kiss You
Seasick, Yet Still Docked
That's How People Grow Up
Death of a Disco Dancer
Something Is Squeezing My Skull
The World Is Full of Crashing Bores
I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris
Sorry Doesn't Help
Life Is a Pigsty (dedicated to friend Gill Smith)
I'm Ok by Myself
Encore: First of the Gang to Die