Morrissey didn’t rock the house at the Playhouse Square’s State Theatre Thursday night, but that’s a mere technicality. When you’ve got stage presence just oozing out of your gray-tinged sideburns -- as the onetime king of mope-rock still does -- you don’t need to rock the house. And by Morrissey standards, he really did kinda rock the house, actually.
We’ll cut right to the chase: He played Smiths songs. Five of ‘em. Opened with “The Queen is Dead.” Later played “Panic,” “The Boy With a Thorn in His Side,” and -- hell yeah -- “How Soon is Now.” Started off the (single) encore with “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want,” which turned into a goosebump-inducing singalong. The closing solo got some extra kick from Mikey Farrell, a Clevelander who plays keyboards and trumpet in the band.
The band took the stage in white shirts and dark bowties, like the five luckiest soda jerks in the history of rock and roll, playing in front of a giant triptych of James Dean faces. And please read this note as a positive about Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr, and not a negative against Morrissey’s two guitarists (one of which is Jesse Tobias, formerly of the Chili Peppers and Alanis Morrisette’s band): Even two quite competent axemen didn’t begin to lay a finger on Marr’s material. Marr solos warp in from another dimension, bending gravity and squeezing the air out of your lungs. Without Marr -- not the mention the rest of the Smiths -- the songs merely sounded pretty damn good, but the magic was limited to Morrissey. And that still amounts to plenty.
Morrissey took the stage in a deep blue suit, truly the Last of the Famous International Playboys. He gradually disrobed, tossing one button-down shirt after another into the rabid front rows. Once an alt-rock posterboy, Mozz now has the presence -- and wit -- of an aging British television host (and, as he revealed, still the torso of a boxer). His aura filled a room, as he waved the mic chord around him like a vegan bullfighter, delivering “Every Day Is Like Sunday” in a fishbowl of purple light. The tour is a greatest hits package -- an under-publicized facet of the show. Morrissey complained about his band’s near-total lack of presence in the American music papers, but he also failed to mention that he wasn’t giving interviews this tour. And after 25 years, if you need some hack music scribe to tell you why Morrissey rules, you have other reading and listening that should be higher up on your list.
Despite the greatest-hits program, Morrissey omitted arguably his best single, 1988’s “Suedehead.” But it’s not a bad trade for “Panic.” Mozz worked the front rows like he was the host of a party, shaking hands, and handing off the mic. “I just want to thank you for 20 years of the soundtrack to my life… I love you,” one fan said. And while most of the crowd didn’t necessarily like Morrissey as much as the two guys who jumped on stage to hug and kiss him, most of them agreed.
He had some opening act, which a lobby full of aging hipsters skipped. Between sets, Mozz’s people rolled random video clips on a giant movie screen. Serious Déjà vu there. -- D.X. Ferris