Stop me if you've heard this one before - curtains up, thunderous applause, mopey jams, clothing thrown and torn, exit stage left. For five nights this past week, this is exactly what you got during Morrissey's triumphant return to New York City. Forget about the canceled Madison Square Garden gig, and let's not talk about the $65 Hammerstein tickets being reduced to $22 a week before the shows. Overestimating your drawing power is something every major musician deals with as the sunset years start to swell, and 2007 has been a watershed year of sorts for Morrissey. Cancelled and rescheduled shows were announced like clockwork this year, and as they mounted up, fans started to surmise about poor ticket sales being the culprit and not the throat infections the press was pushing. The Richard Burton/James Dean set backdrops don't exactly argue against the whole thing being an oldies act, either. But on Sunday, as he closed out his epic Hammerstein Ballroom residency, Morrissey seemed eager, almost determined, to live up to his own grandeur.
Decked out in top and bottom denim, Morrissey went about his full repertoire: eyes-closed crooning, lasso-like mic cord whipping (will he ever go wireless?), and plenty of lyrical melodrama. "Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before" was the barnburner that led things off once again, as it had all week. The surprise of the night came early, as "Interesting Drug" made a rare appearance, eliciting raving shrieks in the front. And "Why Don't You Find Out For Yourself," one of Morrissey's most loved and affecting songs, had the room singing along to its mordant intimations ("I've been stabbed in the back/So many many times/I don't have any skin/But that's just the way it goes"). More recent tracks like "Irish Blood English Heart," "Good Looking Man About Town," and "Human Being" were all offered up with plenty of gusto and his guitar-heavy band seemed to enjoy playing these the most. Before introducing the band (is there a more glamorously anonymous gig than touring as Morrissey's backup band?), he said, drolly, "I found myself walking late last night down by the docks (as one will), and I happened across this band." Never at a loss for between-song banter, Morrissey kept the crowd up throughout the evening, engaging in reactionary statements ("We love our politicians don't we? Yes? No? Yes? No?"), random musings ("No musician of any significance was ever on the cover of Rolling Stone..."), and lending the microphone at times to willing participants.
The older Smiths numbers, sprinkled throughout the night, were the clear showstoppers. In "Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want", Morrissey's voice sounded as sad-sacked as ever, and he toyed with the lyrics, changing the chorus to "Please please please let me have who I want this time." The entire crowd sang along with merriment, almost drowning him out as they filled out the ballroom. The tracks from Strangeways Here We Come, one of The Smiths' least heralded albums, were exceptional as well. Both "Death Of A Disco Dancer" and "Girlfriend In A Coma" were spot-on, and sounded as uniquely fanciful as they did twenty years ago. His voice did show its wear from the week at times, but who can argue with a shirtless 48-year old who cheerfully lends a hand to pull up seething fans bubbling over from the top of the crowd. Though noticeably missing from the show was "Everyday Is Like Sunday," which has been a set-list staple since forever. Maybe it's all gotten a little too literal for him as he's been tirelessly performing the past couple years.
The last song of the night (and all week) was "First Of The Gang To Die," the raucous single off of the underrated album You Are The Quarry from a few years back. The stage invasion was full on at that point, with dizzied, overachieving fans scrapping and clawing their way up to him like a decathlon challenge. It's still hilarious to me that with "How Soon Is Now?" he sings, "I am human and I need to be loved..." and, ten minutes later, he has to fend off a wave of heartstring fan boys breaking through the front gate. But that has always been a huge part of Morrissey's allure, his paradox of narcissism and self-effacement. It was on full display all week, with gray hairs and all. The amount of glee outside Hammerstein every night after the show let out was a great indicator of the magnetism Morrissey still channels. Now, imagine if he could just get over himself already and reform The Smiths...
Photo Gallery by Gabriel Kuo