CONCERT REVIEW Moz: ‘To Be Human Is to Be Loved’
And Oh, How the Crowd Loves Him
House of Blues, Boston, MA
March 29, 2009
Former Smiths frontman Morrissey stopped by Boston on Sunday, March 29th as part of his Tour of Refusal, in support of his latest studio record Years of Refusal. A crowd waited in line hours before doors opened in order to get a great spot at the House of Blues. The general admission floor area filled up quickly with eager fans awaiting a chance to touch the singer himself, as he is known to generously offer his hand to those in the first few rows.
Manchester-based quintet The Courteeners warmed up the audience with a plain assortment of indie tunes. The vocalist could barely be heard, but a generous applause followed each number. Before the last song, the unabashed singer brazenly pointed out that “we’re all here for Morrisset\y anyways,” and continued into an intense punk-influenced song that encouraged the crowd to move a little.
To assuage the anticipation of Morrissey’s set, a medley of ancient music videos were projected on a plain white screen covering the stage set up. As the lights went down, the white sheet dropped to reveal the band, in front of a gigantic backdrop of a shirtless sailor smoking a cigar with the word “refusal” written across his chest. After a dragging piano intro, Morrissey (or Moz, as he’s commonly referred to in print and by fans) stepped onto the stage as the band kicked into “This Charming Man,” a popular Smiths single.
Immediately, the crowd began to dance, and it swayed side to side as Morrissey moved across the stage, approaching the audience. Without any delay, Morrissey began shaking outstretched hands, satisfying half of the front row by the end of the first song. From the floor, the sound filled the room incredibly, and Morrissey’s brilliant vocals sounded crisp and clear, even against the brash performance from his backing band. The singer himself was dressed casually, in a black dress shirt and jeans, but his band sported collegiate and high school sports shirts.
Always delivering his esoteric (and in some cases seemingly non-sequitur) aphorisms, Morrissey’s banter was received by both confusion and laughter. In between “This Charming Man,” and “Billy Budd,” he welcomed everyone to the “house of booze,” (mocking the venue’s name) and encouraged the audience to “take advantage of the fact.”
Also, prone to silly stage antics and changing his lyrics spontaneously, Morrissey stumbled about the stage, as if in a drunken stupor, during “How Soon Is Now?” It is arguably the most popular Smiths song, and the opening guitar riff threw the crowd into a frenzy. The ending section of “How Soon Is Now?,” which gives the band an opportunity to create dark and playful textures, went on a little too long and become unbearably loud for the venue. The song ended with drummer Matt Walker banging on a giant suspended bass drum next to his drum kit. Incredibly, though, the lighting was synched perfectly to every number. Though, admittedly, that’s not very difficult for Morrissey’s crew, who benefit from the band playing nearly an identical set list every night.
Though Morrissey knows that fans crave hearing Smiths songs as well as his older solo material, he still inserted more than half of the songs from his new record into the show. The majority of the house was singing along as well, a testament to their fanaticism (the album only came out a month ago). Later in the set, an eager fan handed Morrissey a LP copy of Years of Refusal. Everyone cheered as Morrissey autographed the record sleeve and admitted on the microphone, “if I can bring one second of happiness to anyone,” and trailed off.
The most successful new songs were “Black Cloud,” and “I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris.” Morrissey gave equal passion to his performance on his older material as well as the new. The end of “Irish Blood, English Heart” featured yet another drawn out jam from the band. This gave Morrissey an opportunity to go backstage and change into a white dress shirt. The music kept droning on, not too inspiringly, and most of the crowd just watched plainly, waiting for the star to return. As if to excuse this momentary musical self-indulgence, Morrissey quietly urged, “but we must.”
A sex symbol, equally mystical for his secrecy regarding his much-debated sexual orientation, Morrissey isn’t shy to disrobe during shows. During “Let Me Kiss You,” the singer provocatively grabbed his body, ripping his shirt off and tossing it into the crowd. The audience roared and collectively pushed forward to catch the sweaty prize.
Even by the end of the set, when Morrissey performed “Something is Squeezing My Skull,” he showed his endurance as a vocalist reaching all of the high notes in the catchy chorus.
Before leaving, Morrissey again poked fun at the venue calling it the “house of rules,” explaining that the venue wouldn’t let him use the in-house kitchens to prepare peppers and rice for their “long journey” to Ann Arbor, Michigan. Morrissey, an outspoken vegetarian, was clearly upset: “people are just horrible, aren’t they?”
Although the crowd wasn’t as raucous as usual, there was a good deal of singing along and plenty of dancing. Those in the back of the floor wanting to get a handshake from Morrissey fulfilled their wishes during the encore of “First of the Gang to Die.” Fans crowdsurfed forward, and Morrissey, against the wishes of venue security, politely shook their hands. One delighted fan raised his fist in victory, encouraging others to follow suit.