They wait for the right moment. When the moment comes, they climb to the stage, bull their way past the security, and rush their target only to stop and hug him ever so gently while placing their head on his shoulder. Maybe they softly kiss the top of his head. He puts his free arm around their waist as security tears them away. Morrissey.
Morrissey came to the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, New Jersey last night. He came out to the New Jersey suburbs where, for many that spent part of the 1980’s at Red Bank Regional, Red Bank Catholic, Rumson-Fair Haven, Shore, Middletowns North & South, Manasquan, CBA, and all the others, Morrissey and Marr were Lennon and McCartney. CoolMom tells me it was that way in Champaign, Illinois as well.
We got to the theater just before 8 and had enough time to grab a beverage and check out the merch table. I hesitated on one of the signed Morrissey canvas prints ($90), and by the end of Kristeen Young’s opening set they were all gone. I could tell, even in the early going, that the theater was going to be full and that the crowd would be more animated than the audience at Fiona Apple’s show a few months back.
Kristeen Young, who’s apparently been Morrissey’s standing opening act for some time, took the stage promptly at 8. Wearing a suit with a cropped jacket, she ran her voice through its entire impressive range over the course of her thirty-minute set. Young’s look, her work on the keyboard, her vocal range, and her way of moving led CoolMom to comment that she reminded her a bit of a more gothic, Siouxsie-ish Fiona Apple. Maybe it was the venue.
As soon as Young left the stage, a large portion of the audience left their seats to stand down front. I was surprised that The Basie staff let this go; but they did, and the show was much better for it.
Morrissey and his band, all dressed in black, came to the front of the stage at precisely 9, bowed, took their positions, and launched immediately into “The Youngest Was the Most Loved” and “You Have Killed Me” from 2006’s The Ringleader of the Tormentors. The crowd just about lost it at the opening strains of “Shoplifters of the World Unite.” A fan handed Morrissey a wrapped gift, which he held and used as a prop during Maladjusted’s “Alma Matters.”
The set’s middle portion focused on Morrissey’s solo catalog, which has to be larger than The Smiths’ by now, and included “November Spawned a Monster,” “People Are the Same Everywhere,” “You’re the One for Me, Fatty,” “Ouija Board, Ouija Board,” and “Maladjusted.”
“How Soon Is Now” kicked off the show’s Smiths-heavy final third. The sound was excellent all night, and the song was mesmerizing. Morrissey briefly left the stage for a shirt change, and returned to find us all clapping wildly along with the introduction to Morrissey’s solo classic, “Everyday Is Like Sunday.” He closed the main set with “I Know It’s Over” from The Queen Is Dead, the cassette of which someone stole from a party (or was it “people over?”) at my parents’ house in 1986 or 1987. As an encore, he gave us “Still Ill” from 1984’s The Smiths. He received several hugs during his final song.
Morrissey is a complicated figure in pop music. He’s got a reputation for being kind of cantankerous, I guess. NME had to issue a formal apology to him last year for accusing him of being a racist. I’ve always thought that his critics never really got the fact that about 90% of the time, he’s just trying to wind you up. He’s a consummate performer with a sharp sense of humor, and he knows what sells. While I did hear some grumbling after the show about the “Meat Is Murder” educational film (It’s Morrissey. What did you expect?), none of his supposed orneriness was really on display last night.
He shook hands with people from the stage all night long. He removed his shirt and tossed it into the audience (A female audience member about two rows in front of me removed hers as well in an act of solidarity, I guess). At one point he sent the mic into the audience and let people speak. And, yes, he returned several hugs.