Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Louder Than Bombs

November 25, 2011

Morrissey at The Music Box in LA Photo: mine
The singer Morrissey has managed to maintain a significant career in popular music longer than many of his contemporaries. Thirty years on, he manages to fill concert halls with ease and has been a regular fixture in Southern California where he maintains an enthusiastic following long after his days leading the landmark 80s band, The Smiths. On Wednesday, after an originally scheduled appearance on The Jimmy Kimmel Show fell through, Morrissey and his current band were scheduled for an extra performance in Hollywood at The Music Box prior to an appearance this coming Saturday at The Shrine Auditorium. And while a Morrissey concert in Los Angeles is not unusual, and the material in the show was mostly from his most recent recordings, there was an unusual serendipity to the evening.

First off, the show at The Music Box took place directly across the street from The Pantages Theater where another 80s alternative music icon, Robert Smith and The Cure were wrapping up the third night of concerts featuring the band’s first three recordings reproduced live in their entirety. Morrissey and The Cure have a longstanding, though largely manufactured, rivalry and the singer on Wednesday couldn’t avoid taking a shot at the band on Wednesday ironically welcoming the audience to “the sunny side of the street”. But as unusual a coincidence the logistics of these two shows were, there was another, more poignant shadow cast across the performance, that of Shelagh Delaney. Delaney, the famous British playwright and author of 1958’s A Taste of Honey, has been a prominent figure as a muse or point of reference for Morrissey’s work throughout his entire career. Her neo-realist drama and frank treatment of British working class life and homosexuality fit perfectly into the cosmology of symbols that have preoccupied the intentionally ambiguous lyrics of Morrissey; and his muse even got her image placed on the cover of The Smiths’ Louder Than Bombs in 1987.

Delaney died at the age of 72 just 3 days before the performance, and although Morrissey did not mention this fact from the stage, her image haunted the entire evening. Before the vocalist and the young men who make up his current band arrived on stage, a filmed interview with a young Delaney played. Her picture remained on a screen behind the performers throughout most of the remainder of the 100-minute show. Which provided another sort of contrast. The Morrissey who appeared on Wednesday is not the effete waif many remember from the 80s but the boxer/tough man who graces the covers of his most recent recordings including Years of Refusal. The set list was taken largely from these last few recordings, and while there were some upbeat moments early on, the last third of the show was populated with a more somber, downbeat mood. After a graphic and Thanksgiving-tinged “Meat is Murder”, he moved through “Satellite”, “Scandinavia”, and “Speedway” before the encore “Still Ill”. There were no tears shed on stage. Morrissey appeared to toy with the audience at times, leering at those whose hands he’d just shaken.

In the end it was a well-played rock show. And Morrissey played every-bit the rock star even into his 50s. He tore off his shirt at the end of the evening tossing it into the audience and exposing his chest. Which might have been slightly more exciting than the life-size naked cut out (with a 45 covering his genitals) on sale at the merchandise counter in the lobby. But all the swagger and sexuality couldn’t replace the feeling of time passing for all of us. Our heroes pass on. We grow older. We hate it when our friends become successful. These themes, not unusual in Morrissey’s work, seemed more present than normal on Wednesday for a show that ended up being less about nostalgia and more about what we lose along the way.


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