As always, Morrissey has so much to answer for. How could the indie-pop cult hero take the stage at Constitution Hall on Wednesday night in a red velvet jacket? How could he perform in front of an Elvis-style backdrop that spelled out his surname in blinking red light bulbs? And how dare he allow his keyboardist to inject a tinkly synth-pop riff into "How Soon Is Now?," the existential boogie that was the American breakthrough of Morrissey's iconic '80s band, the Smiths?
In fact, the British singer (currently resident in Los Angeles) made all these things work, as only he could. He has an uncanny ability to fuse the elements of his sensibility -- lounge ballads with raucous punk, showbiz campiness with earnest introspection, maudlin self-absorption with ironic wit -- and an engaging naturalness as a performer. After storming the hall with an introductory selection of new and older tunes in arrangements that could be fairly termed arena-rock, Morrissey shrugged that the show was just "a pop concert. And you thought you were sophisticated."
In fact, the audience was sophisticated -- one fan who managed to scramble onstage kissed the singer's hand -- and so was the performance. Morrissey's first D.C. show in more than four years confidently ranged through his repertoire, not overselling material from his respectable new album, "You Are the Quarry," and including such Smiths classics as "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out" and "Bigmouth Strikes Again" (with its "Walkman" reference updated to "iPod''). In about 80 minutes, the performer united the crowd and reestablished his relevance. Once again, Morrissey had turned alienation, petulance and playful self-deprecation into triumph.
-- Mark Jenkins