Some fans of Morrissey have a problem letting the man grow old. Certain blogs will heap upon their readers pictures of him from 25 years ago with his shirt open and flowers sticking out of his pockets. And even the most conscientious Morrissey fan will at some point in the conversation wistfully say, “I really looooooove The Smiths,” as if the powerful but fitful start of Morrissey’s music career was all there really ever was of it.
In a way, these fans can be forgiven. In his appearance at the Strathmore Music Center in Bethesda, Md., Wednesday night, Morrissey opened his show with “Shoplifters of the World Unite” and closed it on “How Soon Is Now?” He played several other songs by The Smiths along the way in the 20-song set. But make no mistake — this is not the Morrissey that folks have under glass, frozen in their minds. He’s older, wiser, and dare I say, happier?
I’ve seen Moz in concert a whopping eight times in the past five years thanks to the charming Yasmin, who hooks me into following him around on short arcs when he’s in the area. Although it was more obvious in his performances of four years ago, it still seems plain as day to me that Morrissey is much more content and confident, as a person and an artist, than he was earlier in his career — at the time when people would freeze him for posterity. And it’s quite becoming, I would say. The older Morrissey is eloquent and erudite. His passion for causes really flares up only in his ongoing partnership with PETA, where he protests the eating of animals as cruel, particularly in an elaborately staged rendition of “Meat is Murder.” (Sorry, Steve, but I’m going to eat chickens no matter how many times you show me a video of their admittedly terrible treatment at the hands of some farmers.) But outside of his vegetarian activism, Morrissey seems to know when enough is enough.
Morrissey performs these days with a sense of accomplishment that shows up lyrically a bit more in his newer songs. Interestingly, the Strathmore show was a smashing lineup of greatest hits from throughout his career, focusing only a third of the performance off the past three albums. But the new songs give you a better idea of where the man’s mind is at. Last week on David Letterman’s talk show, Morrissey debuted a new song, “Action Is My Middle Name,” which captures more of the philosophy of the middle-aged Moz. He’s not crying aloud as in “How Soon Is Now?” He’s observing; he’s acting; he’s actualizing — even when he yet sings about suffering.
Sister, he’s primarily a poet, but music matters with Morrissey as well. He’s comfortable in a signature sound that combines elements of rockabilly, glam and now post-britpop. The tireless Boz Boorer, he still of the Polecats, adds depth to a band made up of talented craftsmen. Boorer, even playing off a guitar stand with an injured arm on this tour, is surely responsible for keeping a lot of the rockabilly in Moz Rock. Whenever Morrissey introduces the full lineup of the band these days, you can tell how pleased he is with the performances of the handpicked players. The overall excellence of his band adds to Morrissey’s general good cheer in concert these days.
Morrissey performed old favorites like “Everyday Is Like Sunday” and “Maladjusted.” He included pleasant surprises like “Speedway” and “Ouija Board, Ouija Board” (which I personally dislike but everyone else seems to love it so oh well). And he also reminded us that he has newer material, although his last album was released in 2009, with selections like the excellent and retro “You Have Killed Me,” the clever “I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris,” and the maudlin “Black Cloud.”
Given what an institution Morrissey has become — I sometimes call him the Brit Elvis — it is little wonder that he can sell out venues as big as New York City’s Terminal 5 (capacity 3,000), which he did for two nights in a row last fall, at $80 tickets in no time flat. The Strathmore decisively sold out in no time at all and Morrissey there commanded a crowd that was respectful, grateful and excited over seeing him.
Avante garde diva Kristeen Young opened for Morrissey, as she regularly has been doing for quite a while now. She’s a dynamo on the piano and yelps and wails more than she actually sings these days. Young has an affinity for glam as well, which is accentuented no doubt through her long-time producer Tony Visconti, who surely was responsible for introducing her to Moz and thus lining up the opening act gig. I find her voice appealing and her looks easy on the eyes, so it’s always good to see her out there. She’s vowing to do another LP and a solo tour soon so it may be interesting to see how she grows after more globetrotting with Morrissey.