Morrissey's South of the Border Appeal: Concert Review
The Maestro of Melancholia teams up with veteran Tom Jones and promising Kristeen Young for an evening that covers all the emotional bases.
If you thought the fan base for veteran new wave crooner Morrissey would be pasty, 40-something Gen Xers in T-shirts with the Smiths’ “How Soon is Now?” ringing in their ears, you’d be sadly mistaken.
Sure, the crowd was dressed in black, with assorted rockabilly quiffs and poodle dresses, but the majority of the sell-out crowd of 13,000 or so filing into the dilapidated Sports Arena were Hispanics and Mexicans, a product of the 54-year-old Morrissey’s own appeal to the SoCal Latino community, dating back more than a dozen years to his appearance at the then-Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim with rock en espanol mainstays Jaguares. No, this wasn’t a crowd waiting to see him reunite with Johnny Marr and Andy Rourke, but one seemingly attracted to his overweening romanticism, dark melancholy and fluttering anti-machismo, not to mention the mariachi-influenced take on “First of the Gang to Die” or even his new “The Bullfighter Dies,” another pro-vegan diatribe, this one from his upcoming album, World Peace is None of Your Business, to be released in July on Harvest/Capitol, his first major label effort since 1997’s Maladjusted.
Taking the stage after a series of video clips which documented such diverse inspirations as Charles Aznavour, Mott the Hoople and the New York Dolls, fronting a five-piece band that included guitarists Boz Boorer and ZJesse Tobias, bassist Solomon Walker, drummer Matthew Walker and keyboardist Gustavo Manzur, Morrissey arrived for the third show of his current tour steeped in controversy. As befits a man who would sing “Trouble Loves Me” later in the set, the lovelorn bard was tackled to the ground by adoring fans several days before in San Jose and attracted online barbs from a pair of bands, PAWS and We Are Scientists, who claimed the singer tried to cancel their shows because he was afraid the sound spillover would conflict with his own gig in an adjoining room at Santa Ana’s Observatory the night before. Add in his much-publicized Autobiography, a runaway best-seller in the U.K., which, among other things, details his two great romances, one with a man, the other a woman, leading to a public denial that he's gay.
Opening with the Smiths’ very first single, “Hand in Glove,” his initial fan confrontation doesn't occur until the second number, “Speedway,” from Vauxhall and I, though security rapidly dispatched of the well-wisher after a brief hug, undoubtedly aware of what had happened earlier in the week. The concert continued with fairly obscure numbers like “Ganglord” (from 2006’s Ringleader of the Tormentors) and “I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris (from 2009’s Years of Refusal).
Morrissey’s sardonic humor comes across on You Are the Quarry’s at least it sounds tongue-in-cheek “I Have Forgiven Jesus,” followed closely by the vituperative “Life is a Pigsty.” It’s not until he cranks out Viva Hate’s “Everyday is Sunday” that the audience becomes fully engaged, the band leaning into the anthemic chorus with a Smiths-like verve. What turns out to be a cover of a Frankie Valli song, “To Give (the Reason I Live)” is next up, while the title track to his upcoming album offers a typically smart-ass Morrissey take on politics.
The doom-laden accusatory “Meat is Murder” is accompanied by a provocative, disturbing video of slaughterhouses, including men swinging chickens around by their necks, which leads into another new song offering the quintessential Morrissey plaint, “Earth is the Loneliest Planet.” “The Youngest Was the Most Loved” segues into a pair of songs from 1992’s Your Arsenal, “I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday” and the closing “The National Front Disco.”
For the encore, Morrissey changes his sweat-soaked shirt, then pulls out the third Smiths song of the evening, a gloomy “Asleep,” a song that was the b-side of “The Boy With the Thorn in His Side” from the 1987 compilation album, The World Won’t Listen, before finishing with the hopefully not-prophetic “One Day Goodbye Will Be Farewell” from 2009’s Years of Refusal, ending the show without anyone else daring to invade their idol’s stage space. Only Morrissey could so effortlessly travel the distance from Manchester to Mexico.
Joining Morrissey in a delightfully perfect pairing was veteran Welsh belter Tom Jones, whose well-received set included soulful bluesy covers of Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song,” John Lee Hooker’s “”Burning Hell,” Jessie Mae Hemphill’s “Lord Help The Poor and Needy” and Tom Waits’ “Bad As Me,” gospel rave-ups on Sister Rosetta Thorpe’s spiritual “Strange Things Happening Everyday,” and a pair of Johnny Cash hymns, “If I Give My Soul” and “God’s Gonna Cut You Down.” Jones, resplendent in black leather jacket, with a red-hot six-piece band in tow, then leaned into his own hits, including an a cappella intro to “Delilah” which incorporates a Tex-Mex accordion solo and Latino guitar line which drew applause from the ethnic crowd; a soulful “Green, Green Grass of Home,” a jaunty “It’s Not Unusual” (noting he recorded the song almost 50 years ago) and “Thunderball.” He also paid tribute to his fellow Vegas performer Elvis Presley in the rockabilly-tinged take on Mavis Staples’ “Don’t Knock” before closing with a feverish homage to Jerry Lee Lewis, “End of the Road,” underscored by a key-rattling honky-tonk piano solo.
Opening act Kristeen Young’s eight-song, half-hour set thoroughly entertained those lucky enough to get there early. The St., Louis piano-banger with the multi-octave singing voice and damaged persona has been attracting critical plaudits for a while now, proving a wild, psychedelic presence in her goth wardrobe, leading her three-piece through a set that included such powerfully dissonant provocations as “Commit Adultery,” “This is War,” “The Pictures of Sasha Grey” and two songs whose very titles show why Morrissey has been featuring her on his tours since 2006—“The Answer to All Your Problems is in This Little Bottle” and “Fantastic Failure.” Five of the songs were from her self-released new album, The Knife Shift, which comes out tomorrow, produced by Tony Visconti with Dave Grohl on drums, fully living up to her Maria Callas-meets-Kate Bush-meets-Sleater-Kinney opera-art-punk pedigree.
Hand in Glove (The Smiths)
I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris
The Bullfighter Dies
I Have Forgiven Jesus
Life Is a Pigsty
Everyday Is Like Sunday
To Give (the Reason I Live) (Frankie Valli cover)
Yes, I Am Blind
World Peace Is None of Your Business
Trouble Loves Me
Meat Is Murder (The Smiths)
Earth is the Loneliest Planet
First of the Gang to Die
The Youngest Was the Most Loved
I Know It's Gonna Happen Someday
The National Front Disco
Asleep (The Smiths)
One Day Will Be Farewell