For a performer who has long been synonymous with depression, Morrissey is a lot of fun in concert. Wednesday’s sold-out gig at Strathmore was another triumphant celebration of dissatisfaction, with the British rock icon effortlessly presiding over his adoring-bordering-on-obsessive fans, who basked in the glow of their Chosen One for 90 minutes before trudging back to gloomy reality.
It is a proudly defiant dissatisfaction, rather than depression or despondency, that defines the man whose wry and romantic lyrics, dramatic croon and accessible iconoclasm have made him a hero to a couple of generations of the disenfranchised. When the 53-year-old singer makes news these days, it’s invariably for what he says (comparing the fast-food industry to mass murder, aiming constant and pointed barbs at the British royal family) or what he fails to do (release a new album, reunite his beloved former band, the Smiths).
He is a man of high standards who thumbs his nose at those who don’t adhere to his worldview. Morrissey is touring without a new album to promote because no record label will offer him a deal to his liking. The outspoken vegetarian ended Wednesday’s set with the Smiths song “Meat Is Murder,” soundtracking a film including slaughterhouse footage of chickens and cows.
That purposely dark detour notwithstanding, Moz has become a reliably uplifting live performer whose concerts have evolved into a series of smirky rituals. The matching outfits he and his backing band wear, the philosophical between-song non sequiturs (“Are you at peace? Could you be happier? So what?”), the microphone cord lassos, the Hulk Hogan-esque ripping off of his shirt, the fans who lunge at him hoping to be touched (and therefore blessed), the few who take it further by rushing the stage. (One smart fan went for a simple hug and returned quickly to his seat without incident; a not-as-smart one aggressively tugged Moz a few feet across the stage before getting a violent takedown by a security guard.)
It all has the makings of a stellar Vegas show, if some enterprising casino wants to make a move on a Gen X demographic with some disposable cash. (Based on the busy merchandise booth — items for sale include a pillowcase emblazoned with “Last night I dreamt that somebody loved me” — Morrissey fans are especially willing to shell out.)
It wouldn’t be fair to call the music secondary, not when a show begins with a pair of classics such as “Shoplifters of the World Unite” and “Everyday Is Like Sunday” (surely the most inappropriate song ever used in an NFL ad). Morrissey’s backing band is a muscular rock outfit that is better at stomping through newer songs — anti-anthems such as “You Have Killed Me” and “People Are the Same Everywhere” — than trying to tiptoe through subtler selections from the Smiths catalogue. “People Are the Same Everywhere” is an unreleased tune that explores longtime Morrissey themes: “We’re all in a rush to find a lover’s touch / And when it’s found you wonder / Why it meant so much,” he sang.
May he never find the satisfaction he’s probably not looking all that hard for.