Last Night's Show: Morrissey

It's Morrissey's world and we all just live in it.

That became quite clear last night, when the 48-year-old commanded the stage and captivated a deliriously happy sold-out Pageant crowd with an astounding, awe-inspiring mix of solo songs and Smiths chestnuts.

After all, Morrissey picked up on the fact that best way to get a St. Louis crowd eating out of the palm of your hand is to mention the city in your banter. "It's good to be back in the Lou," he said early in the set, just a few hours after my spies saw him shopping at Vintage Vinyl (!) Dryly, as the audience cheered loudly, he then deadpanned: "That's spelled L-O-U." (Later, he commented, "I have yet to find my thrill on Blueberry Hill. I'd say I have another two years.")

Ever the dramatic performer, the show began when Morrissey strode onstage only after the stage and house lights went dark for five minutes or so, while the song "Imperfect List" by Big Hard Excellent Fish droned over the soundsystem. (He's been using it just before beginning his set for several years now.) To the delight of the crowd, he crooned, "I've come to wish...me an unhappy birthday!" it's a modified line from the Smiths' "Unhappy Birthday" before launching straight into a raucous version of the Smiths' "The Queen Is Dead." He treated the microphone as if he was a toreador wielding a red cape in front of a bull, cutting back-and-forth in time to the descending chords of the song.

His smartly tailored black suit, black shirt and silver tie and his five-piece band's blinding-white sailor suits matched the dizzying light show during this song, an array of intense white flashes that almost resembled jagged bolts of lightning. Despite gesturing to himself and self-deprecatingly saying, "Let this be a warning -- this is what 48 looks like," he looked quite dapper; more than one of my friends wanted to throw herself up onstage and make out with him. (He took his shirt off twice and threw them into the audience to tear apart, for those of you scoring along at home.)

Indeed, a grinning Morrissey was clearly in good spirits if not saucy, sassy and sexy -- perhaps because it was his birthday. (Numerous people passed him birthday cards and presents, which he gladly accepted, and he shook hands with nearly everyone in the front row.) When it came time to acknowledge himself after introducing his five-piece band, he paused and simply said: "And me." He grinned to himself as the audience cheered wildly -- and then sort of laughed to himself and said, "I'm funny."

Song-wise, a rare (for this current U.S. tour, at least) rendition of the Smiths' "Girlfriend In a Coma" turned into a gigantic crowd sing-along, as did that band's "Panic." You Are the Quarry singles "First of the Gang to Die" and "Irish Blood, English Heart" were energetic and cutting. And Your Arsenal's "National Front Disco" was a clear highlight, a jangly pop song that ended in a gigantic wall of louder-than-bombs rock and nuclear-bright lights that felt akin to standing too close to the sun.

Not to sound like a total fangirl but this is the fifth time I've seen him live and it was by far the best concert I've seen him perform. Chalk it up partially to his voice, which hasn't sounded this strong and agile in years, and to his band. I'd say it might be the strongest lineup he's assembled behind him in at least a decade.

In particular, drummer Matt Walker who's performed with Filter and Smashing Pumpkins has the chops to handle the brisker tempos of the Smiths songs, a problem on past tours. Songs played from last year's Ringleader of the Tormentors completely destroyed their studio versions, from the sing-songy "In The Future When All's Well" and march-step "At Last I Am Born" to the grandiose, bombastic "I Will See You in Far Off Places" (which featured multi-instrumentalist Michael Farrell on trumpet).

This band chemistry revealed itself most clearly at the end of the main set. During the watery Ringleader ballad "Life Is a Pigsty" which featured long-time Moz sideman Boz Boorer playing "water glasses" percussion Morrissey somehow ended up writhing on the floor with his feet up on the drumkit for several minutes, as the band minced its way through the song.

Without missing a beat, the tune morphed directly into the familiar psychedelic-shimmering chords of "How Soon Is Now?" and Morrissey leapt up from the ground like a lithe cat; that crowd-pleasing song ended with Walker adding some thunderous bass drum to the crescendoing clouds of loud guitars swirling around stage.

If there was any quibble, it's that nobody managed to get onstage during the encore two songs ("Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want" and "You're Gonna Need Someone On Your Side") to hug Moz. While of course it's a headache for security, it's always a small victory (if not an amusing spectacle) to watch.

Still, the show was by far one of the best shows in the Lou all year. Viva Morrissey!

annie.zaleski@riverfronttimes.com


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