When Morrissey first arrived on the scene back in the ‘80s with the post-punk band the Smiths, he came off as a throwback. With his crooning vocals, his James Dean-inspired haircut and his contrarian opinions, the dapper frontman was the anti-rock star. He was simply too articulate and too well-kept.
Flash-forward to the present day and Morrissey seems even more out of sync. While many pop stars sing to backing tracks, Morrissey simply sings. And he shows little emotional restraint, gesturing dramatically during live performances with no regard for the fact that those gestures might be better suited to the opera. And yet, that’s what makes him even more of a singularity in the pop world. Last night in front of a capacity crowd at the Akron Civic Theatre, he lived up to the billing as a pop/rock icon who's in a league of his own. You can see a slideshow of photos from the concert here
The 90-minute concert opened with an cappella rendition of the Pretenders’ “Talk of the Town” before Morrissey, who admitted later in the show that he was rather pleased to be playing in the town that Pretenders singer Chrissie Hynde once called home, and his bandmates took a quick bow to one another and launched into “Suedehead,” an early solo song that could pass as a Smiths tune since it retains the self-questioning lyrics and falsetto lyrics that distinguish Smiths songs. Throughout the set, the band alternated between dark and moody sonic textures (a particularly gritty guitar solo distinguished “Istanbul,” which was made all more dramatic with some dark red lights) and folk-inflected pop (“Staircase at the University,” which concluded with an acoustic guitar solo). Morrissey’s voice sounded terrific and his backing band capably kept up with the mood shifts and delivered a spot-on rendition of the careening Smiths tune “Stop Me if You Think You’ve Heard This One Before.”
Morrissey prefaced the Smiths tune “Meat is Murder” by yelling “stop eating animals” and then sang the song with real gusto, kneeling in front of a speaker as the band jammed at the end while gruesome videos of animal torture played on the monitors. It was a powerful moment. The set’s final tune, the dour “Everyday is Like Sunday,” was delivered as a raucous sing-a-long despite the refrain “come Armageddon/come Armageddon/come.” A staccato drumbeat propelled the punky Smiths tune “What She Said,” which Morrissey delivered in the one-song encore. Before leaving the stage, he ripped off his shirt and threw it into the audience. At 56, he’s probably too old for that kind of behavior. But it’s Morrissey. He pulled it off.