Time number 5 for Morrissey and me. Paris, Austin, Omaha, Kansas City and now, having just released his new album Years Of Refusal, Chicago. Mandy and I made the pilgrimage to the historic Aragon Ballroom in downtown Chicago (the place with the tall stage), stopping only for gas, bladder relief and a great meal at The Chicago Diner. After waiting in line for a bit and being frisked, we managed to jockey for a position in the fourth row. There we waited, as the temperature rose with the increasing body heat. Then…lights off! Show!
The openers were a band from Manchester, England called The Courteeners. I’d heard a bit about them before, but was basically unfamiliar with them until today. They put on a good show….it’s a thankless task to open for pretty much anybody, but when you’re opening for someone with such a fantically devoted audience as That Guy Who Used To Be In The Smiths Who Isn’t Johnny Marr, Andy Rourke or Mike Joyce, I’m sure it can be especially punishing. Having said that, they went over pretty well with the crowd. The Courteeners’ sound isn’t a million miles away from, say, The Libertines (in fact, I’d say it’s more like three houses down), but they do what they do well, and their single “Not Nineteen Forever” was a definite highlight for me. It made me want to hear more from them, so mission accomplished. After these lads exited the stage, videos were projected onto a large sheet that covered up all but the very front of the stage. This was done between sets during the 2007 shows as well, and most of the videos were the same as then (New York Dolls performances, etc.). Since then, he seems to have developed (or exposed) an interest in 60’s Dutch rock band The Shocking Blue (perhaps best known on these shores for their song “Venus” and “Love Buzz”, which was covered by Nirvana and released as their first single), as three performances of theirs were included here. As the final video ended, the sheet fell to the floor, exposing a backdrop with the gentleman on it, “Refusal” emblazoned across his chest:
And then Morrissey appeared.
(But not, unfortunately, like this.)
The man emerged from the wings dressed to the nines in a dapper tux, with his band uniformly wearing black shirts and slacks with white ties featuring their leader’s face. “Good evening, Chicago“, said Morrissey in a “Da Bears“ voice as “This Charming Man” sprang to life. It was great to finally hear rthis song live; he had never played it since going solo until this year (I remember when my brother and I went to see Morrissey in Paris in 2004; between songs someone requested “This Charming Man”, to which Steven parroted in what can only be described as a “retard” voice “This Chauming Mahn, This Chauming Mahn). It lacked some of Johnny Marr’s more Johnny Marr-ish parts, but it was still delightful to hear the song that made me love The Smiths in-person. “Something Is Squeezing My Skull” (a highlight of the new album and its next single) came next and saw Morrissey whipping his mic cord around as he is wont to do; it was quickly followed by Vauxhall & I‘s “Billy Budd” and Refusal‘s “Black Cloud”, before making way for that one song, “How Soon Is Now?”.
As the opening tremelo of “How Soon..?” was sounded, the crowd went predictably wild. There’s a reason that this song has been included in most of Morrissey’s setlists since 2004…for most people, this is his signature song, and the Smiths song most likely to be known to a non-Smiths fan. However, I would fine if he dropped it. Obviously, it’s a great song but I’ve seen it live at least four times. But much like I wish Oasis would give “Wonderwall” a rest at shows, I wouldn’t mind “How Soon” being relegated to the mothballs for a bit. Having said that, it was probably the best live version I’ve seen to date.
Two tracks from Moz’s “comeback” album You Are The Quarry, “Irish Blood, English Heart” & “How Could Anybody Possibly Know How I Feel?” came next and cleared the way for a spirited rendition of The Smiths’ “Ask” (which featured the lyrical change “If it’s not love/Then it’s military might/Then it’s macho military might that will bring us together”). Refusal‘s first single “I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris” saw longtime Morrissey collaborator Boz Boorer show off his mean clarinet skills, and acted as a jangly prelude to the mid-tempo glam of “The World Is Full Of Crashing Bores” (strangely, four tracks from 2004’s Quarry were included the set, but none from 2006’s Ringleader Of The Tormentors). A languid bass intro signaled the beginning of “Death Of A Disco Dancer”, one of the highlights of The Smiths’ final album Strangeways Here We Come; its performance saw Morrissey stationary at the microphone, while the band worked up the song’s queasy groove. After finishing his vocal contribution Morrissey left the stage, allowing the musicians to jam out on the song’s outro in a way that Marr, Rourke & Joyce may have done had they ever performed it live. Definitely a concert highlight.
Morrissey reappeared, newly de-tuxed and dived into “The Loop”, a personal favorite and one of his most rockabilly numbers (upright bass and all). “Does anybody want to stare into an open grave?”, he asked as the band kicked into “I Keep Mine Hidden”, the final song to be written and recorded by The Smiths. I was really surprised when I saw this appear on setlists earlier this year, as I never thought it would get a live airing (like “Disco Dancer”, The Smiths didn’t survive long enough after recording it to consider playing it). In this instance I was quite happy to be wrong, as its jaunty arrangement translated well to the live arena.”One Day Goodbye Will Be Farewell” followed, making way for another high point, a perfomance of “Seasick, Yet Still Docked” from 1992’s Your Arsenal. The stage was bathed in blue light as the song’s melancholy progression reverberated throughout the Aragon. Lovely ambient keys added pathos to this song, so often overlooked.
The rocking continued post-haste thereafter, as “Best Friend On The Payroll” from 1995’s soon-to-be-reissued Southpaw Grammar thundered to life, acting as a bridge between the sorrowful “Seasick” and a wistful “Let Me Kiss You”, which concluded with the obilgatory take-off-shirt-and-throw-it-to-the-crowd bit. A trio of tracks from Years Of Refusal ended the main set (“When Last I Spoke To Carol” sounded great, in particular), and after the cursory stage exit and applause Moz & Co. came back on-stage and launched into “First Of The Gang To Die”, a performance that saw him dispense with most of the words in favor of various gutteral grunts and squawks. You are reminded when seeing him live how much of a weirdo Morrissey actually is. And with that the stage was vacated and the show was closed.
On the way back, I listened to The Ricky Gervais Guide To… and the new Depeche Mode album twice.
Overall, time no. 5 was quite good, but I am incredibly biased. I feel the setlist could use some work; when one has over 200 songs available, both with The Smiths and solo, should such greats as “Reel Around The Fountain”, “Suedehead” or “Glamorous Glue” be left on the sidelines while the likes of four songs from You Are The Quarry and “How Soon Is Now?” are allowed to run rampant? No, obviously, but that’s what comes with being a Morrissey fan. I really get the impression that he plays what he wants to play, and isn’t trying to cater to the audience (“How Soon?” excluded). I mean, he waited 21 years to play “This Charming Man”, one of his most beloved songs. The performance was a great, I just wish the set was a bit more varied. But that’s ok…as long as he’s playing live, I’ll still see him. It’s always a treat. Where will time no. 6 be? Will there be a time no. 6? Who knows these things? Lord knows I don’t. But until next time…keep watching the skies!
1.) THIS CHARMING MAN
2.) SOMETHING IS SQUEEZING MY SKULL
3.) BILLY BUDD
4.) BLACK CLOUD
5.) HOW SOON IS NOW?
6.) IRISH BLOOD, ENGLISH HEART
7.) HOW COULD ANYBODY POSSIBLY KNOW HOW I FEEL?
9.) I’M THROWING MY ARMS AROUND PARIS
10.) THE WORLD IS FULL OF CRASHING BORES
11.) DEATH OF A DISCO DANCER
12.) THE LOOP
13.) I KEEP MINE HIDDEN
14.) ONE DAY GOODBYE WILL BE FAREWELL
15.) SEASICK, YET STILL DOCKED
16.) BEST FRIEND ON THE PAYROLL
17.) LET ME KISS YOU
18.) SORRY DOESN’T HELP
19.) WHEN LAST I SPOKE TO CAROL
20.) I’M OK BY MYSELF
21.) FIRST OF THE GANG TO DIE
STAGE ENTRY & THIS CHARMING MAN (SNIPPET)
BLACK CLOUD & HOW SOON IS NOW?
SEASICK, YET STILL DOCKED
WHEN LAST I SPOKE TO CAROL
DEATH OF A DISCO DANCER (CARNEGIE MUSIC HALL, 3/09)
I KEEP MINE HIDDEN (BBC CONCERT, 2009)
THIS CHARMING MAN (BBC CONCERT, 2009)