Who knew a tortured English poet with a mile-wide streak of narcissism could still command a capacity audience after some 30 years in the world of pop music?
Steven Patrick Morrissey – just plain Morrissey to mere mortals like us – packed the Rapids Theatre in Niagara Falls on Friday, offering a tour through his idiosyncratic and often brilliant career, with an emphasis, obviously, on his solo work, but with enough stops in the catalog of his first band, the Smiths, to keep everyone happy.
And happy this immense and excitable crowd appeared to be, as members leapt on stage near show’s end to give their hero a squeeze, while others hugged, danced, and dare it be suggested, shed a tear or two during moments of particularly high emotional tenor. It was that kind of night.
The source of Morrissey’s unabated appeal and continued artistic resonance was easy to suss on Friday – it’s the wry, bemused air he brings to his stage, the role of jilted poet and spurned lover he so brilliantly creates and fulfills through his florid vocal melodies and often hilariously biting (and on occasion, absolutely heartbreaking) lyrics.
Morrissey didn’t so much perform as hold court over the audience at the Rapids, as if he was doing us all a favor by allowing us to bend and kiss his ring, even as he rolled his eyes and feigned indifference. That’s been part of the man’s genius since the emergence of the game-changing English alt-rock outfit the Smiths in 1982, and it certainly remains a prominent trait in his musical personality today.
The rest of the appeal can be posited to the songs themselves, and the subtle brilliance of the band he’d assembled to play those songs. Morrissey’s gift is as a lyricist and crafter of vocal melodies, and he’s always worked with a great guitarist/co-writer whose job it is to provide the skeleton atop which the singer assembles flesh and blood.
On Friday, the band opened with one of the many songs Morrissey wrote with his first creative foil, Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr, in the form of the acerbic “Shoplifters of the World Unite,” as fans young and old(er) basically went nuts on the Rapids Theatre floor. The joint took on the air of a Friday night at the much-missed Continental in Buffalo, circa 1993.
The evening’s second tune celebrated the enduring writing partnership Morrissey formed with guitarists Boz Boorer and Jesse Tobias following the dissolution of the Smiths. “You Have Killed Me” was presented in full-bodied, dramatic form, as Morrissey’s voice started to warm up, and the band caught fire.
From this point forward, it was all gravy – Morrissey had the crowd wrapped up in his fist, and he didn’t let go until the last chord of encore “How Soon is Now?” had ceased to resonate.
There were many highlights – the jangly, R.E.M.-ish crooner “You’re the One For Me, Fatty,” with its insanely addictive chorus; an absolutely devastating take on the Smiths’ “I Know It’s Over”; the high camp of “The Youngest Was the Most Loved”; and perhaps the most impeccably sung and powerfully performed tune of the night, a beautifully bleak “Everyday is Like Sunday.”
Though it was tough to claim a decent vantage point amidst the adoring throng, the sound at the Rapids Theatre was close to pristine, particularly closer to the stage and toward the center.
The elegance of the renovated historic theater suited Morrissey’s air of decadent royalty quite well, too.
At barely 90 minutes, the show felt a bit short. That said, “Moz” and his band did manage to pack some 19 songs – many of them deep cuts and surprise additions to the set list – into their time on stage.
At this stage of the game, Morrissey is an icon of alternative music, and Friday’s show felt suitably iconic.