12/01/2009

Morrissey: This Charming Man

Morrissey, the former resident of Manchester, England, who first became widely known as a singer with The Smiths (crooning woeful songs that he wrote with Johnny Marr) in the 1980s, and who later established himself as a one-off star in his own right, appeared onstage at the Roseland Theater in Portland on November 30, 2009. His performance, which I attended with my wife (who happens to be an especially ardent fan of the gloomy Mancunian), offered ample evidence that, even in middle age, Steven Patrick Morrissey continues to be a figure of singular appeal.

Morrissey and the five members of his band sauntered out to a wild reception from the crowd, and charged into "This Charming Man," an early song by The Smiths. The British singer maintained a speedy pace throughout the show, moving quickly from one song to another, drawing heavily from his latest release, Swords, a collection of b-sides. He also included songs from You Are the Quarry ("Irish Blood, English Heart," "The World Is Full of Crashing Bores," "First of the Gang to Die") and Years of Refusal ("Black Cloud," "When Last I Spoke to Carol," "One Day Goodbye Will Be Farewell," "I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris," "I'm OK by Myself"), as well as a few more from the days of The Smiths ("Death at One's Elbow," "Ask," "Is It Really So Strange?" "Cemetry Gates," "How Soon Is Now?").

It certainly must be acknowledged that Morrissey is no longer the slender eccentric with formidable hair who became famous for, among other things, his habit of waving flowers while performing and his frequent expressions of enmity toward Margaret Thatcher. At the age of fifty, Morrissey's waistline has expanded and his hairline has retreated, but his voice retains its dour strength and his mordant personality remains as distinctive as ever. He clearly delights in being adored by his fans (several people handed gifts to him when he came to the front of the stage), and he has not lost his skill in making offhand comments. When a young woman in the audience shouted out to him, "I love you, Morrissey," the singer deftly replied, "It will pass."

The musicians behind Morrissey, taking their direction from Boz Boorer on guitar, were tightly united in their collective abilities, allowing them to create a musical setting that was as fast and as sharp as Morrissey's wit. Morrissey and his songs are, admittedly, not for everyone. It seems that one either enjoys his darkly humorous observations of life, or one does not. For those of us who have no compunction in regarding him as one of the greatest performers and songwriters of his generation, however, he is nothing less than a musical treasure.