Morrissey Live at Hollywood High: Russell Brand and Fans Worship at the Church of Moz
Despite long lines and a lack of food and alcohol, the sold-out crowd of 2,500 rejoiced at a setlist heavy on the former Smiths frontman's solo material.
As most of his fans' lifelong love affairs with Morrissey tend to begin in the treacherous years of high school, an intimate date with the singer at Hollywood High School -- inside whose hallowed halls once strolled the gawky likes of Lana Turner, Judy Garland and Ricky Nelson -- seemed a fitting chaser to Friday’s sold-out Staples Center show.
Unfortunately, the rare venue, where Elvis Costello and the Attractions recorded their 1978 album Live at Hollywood High, was ill-equipped to handle the 2,500 people who had shown up on Saturday night to worship at the Church of Moz. Slow-moving lines snaked around three Hollywood blocks, and frustrations only grew once ticket-holders inside learned that the closest thing to a concession stand was a water fountain and a PETA information booth. Is beer murder, too?
After a tepidly received warm-up set from Kristeen Young -- apparently back in Morrissey’s good graces after having been fired by the singer on a 2007 tour for commenting onstage, “Morrissey gives good head -- oops, I mean cunnilingus” -- and a bizarre assortment of vintage music videos, the lights at last fell, and all was instantly forgiven, if the cheers were any indication.
While the Staples Center show began with a head-scratcher of a celebrity intro by Grey’s Anatomy star Patrick Dempsey, Hollywood High was greeted by the more logical choice of Russell Brand, a sympatico countryman whose heartfelt dedication to the former Smiths frontman set the deferential tone that would dominate the 90-minute set.
“I’m here for the same reason as all of you,” Brand told the crowd. “To pay respects to Morrissey ... I think all of us here when we’re here watching him contort and thrash upon this stage recognize a person who offered us salvation when we were truly, truly alone. A person who can elevate the mundane and the vulnerable and make them seem truly heroic.”
Brand also touched upon a largely unexplained phenomenon in the Moz-iverse: the English singer’s massive popularity among Mexican-Americans.
“I know there’s a lot of Latin people here,” Brand said, to a roar of approval. “I’ve always thought of him as a uniquely English artist ... but clearly there’s something in his passion, something in his lyrics, something in his heart that speaks to us all universally.”
And with that, Morrissey finally emerged, surrounded by a four-piece band of handsome young men -- bassist Solomon Walker, keyboardist Gustavo Manzur, guitarist Jesse Tobias and drummer Anthony Burulcich (of The Bravery). In their matching T-shirts, they could easily have been mistaken for a Morrissey fan club that won a chance to take the stage with their idol -- but, under the leadership of longtime musical director Boz Boorer, the group delivered. As did the guest of honor, now 53, whose lilting baritone remains as strong as ever.
Minimal patter (no further mention of Beyonce's handbag choices, unfortunately) interrupted a set heavy on Morrissey’s solo material, oscillating wildly between early post-Smiths material like “Ouija Board, Ouija Board” and mid-2000s singles “Irish Blood, English Heart” and “You Have Killed Me.” Occasionally, Morrissey would disappear backstage to emerge in an all-new floral shirt, whose buttons would mysteriously lose their fastening capacity as the show went on, until the singer whipped them off to reveal his trim, middle-age torso in all its vegan glory.
For the Smiths fans in the crowd -- i.e. everyone -- Morrissey obliged by tossing them the occasional bone, dusting off maudlin classics like “Still Ill” and “Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want,” whose Johnny Marr-crafted melodies stand the test of time. And speaking of bones, graphic slaughterhouse footage -- taken from 2002 documentary Meet Your Meat -- offered a suitably traumatic backdrop to Morrissey’s rendition of “Meat is Murder,” theatrically delivered like something out of Sweeney Todd. Come for Morrissey, stay for the bull castration.
“Ouija Board, Ouija Board”
“Irish Blood, English Heart”
“You Have Killed Me”
“November Spawned A Monster”
“You’re The One For Me, Fatty”
“People Are The Same Everywhere”
"That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore”
“To Give (The Reason I Live)”
“Meat is Murder”
“Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want"
“Action Is My Middle Name”
“Everyday Is Like Sunday”
“I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris”
“Let Me Kiss You”
“The Boy With The Thorn In His Side”