Back in 2002, I traveled across the United States in a roving collaborative architecture studio called The Mobile Studio. For nine weeks, myself and 5 others moved from city to city (Charlotte to Los Angeles), taking in culture, architecture, and highways. Meeting new people in new cities always expanded my knowledge of what was hip in the local culture. In Houston, I hung out with a couple of architecture students that shared my musical tastes. Before leaving the city, I was handed a cd full of music that included Elvis Costello, The Ramones, The Smiths and more. Before this I’d had very little exposure to Morrissey or The Smiths, but that would soon change as I bought my first Moz album, Malajusted, on the East bound trip in a small cd shack in Albuquerque, NM.
Five years and several albums later, I saw Morrissey perform in July 2007 at House of Blues in Myrtle Beach, SC. The venue was packed, a Morrissey look-a-like was in attendance, and the energy reached a level I hadn’t seen at a live show in years. Moz pranced around with massive James Dean posters behind him and a band that looked like the rockers from Quadrophenia. I think I counted 6 times that he took off a shirt and flung it into the crowd. At least 20 audience members jumped on stage to hug Moz, while the rest of the crowd seemed to wish they had a piece of the action as well.
Two years and two albums later, Moz stepped onto the newly christened stage of the Durham Performing Arts Center. Maybe it was the venue, maybe it was Steven Morrissey’s recent illness or simply a new direction in his musical career (as indicated by the new album Years of Refusal), but the show had a bit less energy than I expected—yet the same passion as his performance two years earlier. Years of Refusal has a harder edge than many of his solo albums, which became immediately evident on the Durham stage when “This Charming Man” lacked any reference to Johnny Marr’s jangly guitar riffs. At age 50, Morrissey is pushing forward musically in a way that few have done at his age, besides Nick Cave. The crooning has turned to a darker rock yell. Morrissey blazed through the songs and bowed as the lights went out at the end of almost every song.
The recent sickness may have slowed Moz down a bit, but he kept up his dry wit throughout the night. From the statement, “We also have a Durham but this one is nicer” to the fact that we have a “great President and there’s not much to complain about….yet”, he was light hearted on the stage. The packed house seemed to enjoy the show, although I didn’t hear the deafening roar at the encore that David Byrne received in Raleigh. This may explain why Morrissey only performed one song in the encore, “Irish Blood, English Heart.” But this was only the second show on this tour, so maybe he has yet to hit his stride.
Other highlights from the evening include “I Keep Mine Hidden,” the last song The Smiths recorded together (and a B-side on the Girlfriend in a Coma single). Morrissey did take off his shirt and fling it into the crowd twice in Durham and at least 10 or so fans jumped on stage to hug him and were promptly escorted off. The massive back lit sailor showing his muscles, cigar in mouth, proved fabulous stage imagery, as did the introductory videos of The New York Dolls, Buster Poindexter, Shocking Blue and other musical influences that were played before Moz hit the stage. He concluded nicely by ending the set with “I’m Okay By Myself” and allowing the bassist to step front and center for a solo in the spotlight as the rest of the band exited the stage.
It’s too bad that Johnny Marr isn’t on tour with Modest Mouse now or that would have been two original Smiths members in the Triangle on the same day. Moz may not have been at 100%, but he definitely threw his arms around Durham and its fans.
Morrissey Durham Setlist
This Charming Man
Something Is Squeezing My Skull
How Soon Is Now?
I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris
Mama Lay Softly On the Riverbed
That’s How People Grow Up
How Can Anyone Possibly Know How I Feel?
Let Me Kiss You
(Candy Striped Shirt Comes Off, Black Shirt On)
Seasick, Yet Still Docked
The Loop (with Moz on tambourine)
Best Friend On the Payroll
One Day Goodbye Will Be Farewell
Why Don’t You Find Out For Yourself
I Keep Mine Hidden
The World Is Full of Crashing Bores
Life Is a Pigsty
I’m OK By Myself
Irish Blood, English Heart
(Black Shirt Comes Off)