By Mark Guarino
What ingredients are needed to become Morrissey?
According to the string of videos that preceded his appearance at the Aragon Tuesday, you start with glam garage rock of The New York Dolls, add the rugged debonair of James Dean circa “East of Eden,” throw in a transvestite cabaret singer and shake it with a mix of Italian and French pop stars.
Morrissey is definitely not of common pop singer stock. At the Aragon, his only U.S. appearance this fall, the singer demonstrated why he remains such an iconic figure. His flair for dramatic poses, self-deprecation, stylish fashion sense and that chiming voice are a potent mix and one that continues to help him remain palatable to a new legion of fans who were in their diapers when he recorded his best known work with the vanguard British pop group The Smiths.
The 90-minute sold-out show included many Smiths songs (“Girlfriend in a Coma,” “Everyday is Like Sunday”) he performed with a five-member band that did not hold back when it came to recreating the lightening flash guitar riffs of Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr or the former band’s jerky rough edges and punk-pop sheen. “Ringleader of the Tormentors” (Attack/Sanctuary), his most recent album released last spring, is powered with dark and heavily driving guitars. “You Have Killed Me” and “In the Future When All’s Well” both rumbled with dark undertones while two guitarists jockeyed with menace. On “Irish Blood, English Heart,” the guitars interrupt as if dive-bombing.
His voice is one of rock’s most elusive, delivering painfully bleak lyrics without sounding particularly painful or bleak. Instead, Morrissey’s forte is mocking detachment, he sounds soothing even when singing a song with the repeated refrain, “life is a pigsty.” He was playful in the role as a gloomy naysayer who looked good in a tie and tailored clothes. At 47, he even felt comfortable enough to flash his belly for cheers.
To compound the dynamic, songs were introduced by random observations. “I have destroyed 46,000 lives and I don’t really care,” he said. Later, commenting on the Aragon, he recalled “it was many years since we came to this fantastic venue. I’m pleased to say that now they have some decent toilet paper.”
A jab at the media ignoring his greatness was a throwaway — Morrissey is an industry for good press and besides, he turns down all interview requests and hardly tours. He proved he could elicit more sympathy during moments of true dramatic heights. Near the end of “I Will See You In Far Off Places,” he fell to his knees in torment. Then came the gong. Labeled with the word “Tormentor,” it was a cathartic release, but for Morrissey, just temporary of course.