On Monday night, it felt strange to see a formerly grungy star perform in a theater with plush red seats. Lavish curlicues decorated several box seats above me, and the pre-show music was classical, at least until the playlist switched to rock. I tried not to feel out of place in such an elegant environment. But then, the venue’s grandeur was somewhat apt. Morrissey’s saga has long been operatic—since he started in the scene, he’s been outspoken in many a public context. Last night, the former Smiths frontman entertained the Fitzgerald Theater, showing off new material with an extravagant brand of performance, and yes: a healthy serving of attitude.
At the Fitz, his five-piece band joined him for 20 songs, including a quick encore of the Smiths’ “What She Said.” The band showed versatility while switching between instruments and even languages—multi-instrumentalist Gustavo Manzur sang the last part of “Speedway” in Spanish.
However, I found Morrissey himself to be less dexterous. Aside from his signature “whip the mic cord” move and the shirt-tearing end of the encore, Morrissey’s greatest tool was the video screen behind him as he performed his 90-minute set. It showed slaughterhouse footage during “Meat Is Murder” by the Smiths, and videos of police brutality accompanied several songs.
Although some would criticize the setlist for featuring too much of Moz’s newest album, my main problem with the show wasn’t with his music or even his persona; I struggled with the content’s ironic positioning. Morrissey markets himself as a devout advocate for animals, solidarity, and social justice. But how can he croon pointed lines like “The rich must profit and get richer/ And the poor must stay poor,” from the title track off World Peace is None of Your Business, while charging concertgoers $85 each, plus fees? Of course, the Fitzgerald was an intimate venue. The supply/demand relationship can allow for exorbitant prices. But looking around during “World Peace,” I started to feel uneasy about cheering for the artist.
After performing his sixth song, “Staircase At The University,” Morrissey threw a jibe from onstage. He started, “I’m very pleased to be untied and free,” trying to lead into a story about his day. But a fan’s cheer cut him off, and he asked, “What, too much?”
Meanwhile, I was using my iPod’s Notes app to take notes on the concert. When I heard, “Am I getting in the way of your texting?” I looked up, trying to spot whichever fan was the offender—and saw Morrissey meet my eyes with a yeah, you nod. “Am I distracting you?” He scoffed, turning his back on the crowd. “Words? Communication? Is that too much?” Quickly, though, the moment ended, and he launched into “Kiss Me a Lot.”
If he’s as difficult as they say he is, why is Morrissey still such a star? Late in the show, I closed my eyes during “First of the Gang to Die” and remembered. He’s talented. All ideologies aside, I could listen to him for hours. Of course, it’s strange that the man known for his acerbic lyrics and stances can have such a beautiful voice. But it’s true; even over harsh electric guitars and tragic ideas, Morrissey wows with a bit of warble, a gorgeous Northern accent, and lots of caramelly warmth.
Instead of an opener, 18 video clips lit up the Fitzgerald Theater before Morrissey; the half-hour of preparatory material covered a variety of subjects, ranging from James Baldwin to flamenco dance to Jefferson Airplane. The audience gave about ten seconds of their time to the opening poem, a recorded version of Maya Angelou’s accusatory “No No No No.” On the other hand, all eyes followed the video of riot/protest photos set to “Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead.” That particular montage ended with an image of a 2013 marquee: “Margaret Thatcher’s Dead – LOL.”
Cecilia Johnson is studying English and Spanish at Hamline University. Her favorite things include Spain, hip-hop, and spare ribs.