Still Tragic, Still Political, Still Swoon-Worthyby Joanna McNaney Stein
MORRISSEY AT BROOKLYN ACADEMY OF MUSIC
On January 11, an appropriately rainy night in Brooklyn, Morrissey took the stage with his usual dramatic flare at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Howard Gilman Opera House. Since Morrissey began his musical career as lead singer of the U.K. band the Smiths, legions of devoted fans have been singing along with his (and songwriting partner Alain Whyte’s) gloomy lyrics, which serve as a kind of gospel for the melancholy. Though his famous pompadour is toned down nowadays, Morrissey—or “Moz,” as he’s known to fans—is no less fascinating a presence onstage.
Opening for Morrissey was Kristeen Young, a powerhouse solo artist with the vocal range of Kate Bush and the dramatic flair of Gwen Stefani. Young was so surprisingly good, both singing and banging away at her keyboard in accompaniment, that I could only imagine how much greater she could be with the support of a backing band. Still, Young’s one-woman theatrics warmed up the crowd nicely for the main act.
Morrissey led off with “Action Is My Middle Name,” one of his newer and more obscure songs. Afterwards, he stirred up the crowd as he took his microphone from its stand, like a modern-day Lancelot taking a sword from his belt. “If you stand in the front, you know very well you’re going to get whipped,” he playfully warned the fans crushed up against the stage. The band then struck up “Everyday Is Like Sunday,” a quintessential song from Morrissey’s 1988 solo debut Viva Hate.
Throughout the evening, Morrissey performed four songs from the Smiths’s catalog, the highlight of which was the epic alt-rock anthem “How Soon Is Now?” from the band’s second album, Meat Is Murder. Even though Johnny Marr, the Smiths’s lead guitarist, no longer performs with Morrissey, the guitar riffs he penned for the track were as powerful as ever.
As the concert went on there was plenty of witty banter between songs. At one point, Morrissey quipped, “There were a few words in the New York Times suggesting I needed therapy.” The crowd responded with laughter. He repeated the word “therapy, therapy, therapy” as he transitioned into one of his great tragic songs, the appropriately-titled “Maladjusted,” from the 1997 solo album of the same name.
Around this time, a few brave—or crazy—fans in the front row began hoisting themselves up onto the stage and into Morrissey’s arms. Moz always obliged with a hug, but security had to repeatedly shove the devotees down from the stage.
As “Maladjusted” ended, Morrissey walked calmly offstage. Guitarist Boz Boorer switched to acoustic and began strumming the intro to “Let Me Kiss You,” a ballad released as a single in 2004. When Morrissey re-emerged he had changed into a button-down western shirt. As he began to sing, his tender tone provided a welcome contrast to his more acerbic repertoire. But just when the crowd thought Morrissey had quieted down, he tore off his new shirt and sang bare chested for a few moments before tossing the shirt out into the crowd. Onlookers shouted with glee at Morrissey’s exposed chest; others in the front fought madly for the priceless souvenir.
A PETA supporter and an advocate for animal rights throughout his career, Morrissey chose “Meat Is Murder” for the finale. The song about animal cruelty was accompanied by a film, which began with the words “Meet Your Meat” and proceeded to show scenes of chickens, turkeys, cows, and pigs being abused and slaughtered. The combination of the horrific scenes in the film and Morrissey’s wailing of “murder, murder, murder” made many in the audience cringe and bury their faces. Others in the crowd showed their support with applause once the song ended.
Morrissey came out for one encore, a rendition of “Still Ill” from the Smiths’s self-titled debut. Despite security’s efforts, one pre-teen boy made his way onstage and leapt right into Morrissey’s arms. Morrissey held the boy, walking with him across the stage while continuing to sing, before security placed him back into the crowd. To have received such attention, for a song recorded nearly 30 years ago, proved that it doesn’t matter how old Morrissey gets: future generations of Moz fans are just starting to listen.
ContributorJoanna McNaney Stein
JOANNA MCNANEY STEIN is an essayist, musician, and adjunct lecturer of English at Kingsborough Community College.