Band’s harder edge robs Morrissey of sweetness
BY MARK GUARINO
Ever since Chuck Berry wrote “School Days” in 1957, modern pop music became the natural channel for the despondence, agitation and self-absorption of youth culture. But it took Morrissey to give the bummer years their literary flair.
The debonair, single-named British singer, best known as the suffering saint behind The Smiths in the 1980s, is now a 49-year-old adult singing about the same things he always has: how the world is full of bores, how there is no one on this earth who will ever love him, how serenity will never happen in this life and how he’d like to go out tonight but he doesn’t have anything to wear — and really, what’s the point anyway?
The 21-song set was divided among his three career phases: some Smiths, his 1990’s solo output and the three albums from the past five years that represent both an artistic comeback and a savvy affirmation of the brand.
Despite the wide scope, many of the songs got stuffed in the band’s blender programmed for speed and brawn. On “Death of a Disco Dancer,” another from the Smiths, the band took a moment to level chaos with the subtlety of an 18-wheel semi. The majority of the show was played at this extreme level, which lacked the dynamics that would have given it balance. Even new songs like “Sorry Doesn’t Help” or “I’m OK by Myself” had such airtight execution, the effect felt like strangling.
“Seasick, Yet Still Docked,” the show’s sole ballad, allowed the inclinations of both singer and band (featuring bassist Solomon Walker and drummer Matt Walker, both Chicago natives) to integrate. With each anguished couplet he sang (“You can tell I have never really loved / you can tell by the way I sleep all day”), the band answered in a way that made them glow.
Morrissey performed largely with detachment from his former self so that now his stage persona borders parody and wistful nostalgia. His stage gestures were limited to the familiar ones: ripping off his own shirt (and quickly exiting to put on its replacement), curling up on the floor, lightly whipping his microphone chord.
With his runs into the high octaves and deeply expressive phrasing, his continuous vocal strength became the single thing that gave the show luster.
By night’s end, Morrissey made one final statement without words. After handed flowers from the crowd, he tore off each petal and threw them – one by one – into the audience, until there remained one thing left: a rose. That went behind his ear.
Mark Guarino is a Chicago journalist. Visit mark-guarino.com.
The setlist from Morrissey’s concert Saturday night at the Aragon: