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Review: Morrissey gets moody, militant at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg

You’re not going to believe this, but something in the news has Morrissey in a mood.

“Just before I left the hotel, I heard some shocking news on the television,” the patron saint of sad bastardry said from the stage of the Mahaffey Theater Friday night. “Apparently there’s a sinkhole outside Legoland. They spoke about this for 12 and a half minutes, absolutely outraged. ... Try living in Syria.”

And later, for good measure: “Maya Angelou, she’s not even settled in her grave yet, and on the news, they’re worried about Legoland. Is that weird?”

Always the life of the party, this guy.

Twenty-eight years after the Smiths played their final U.S. show at St. Petersburg’s old Bayfront Center, their singer — a little grayer, a little paunchier, a little sweatier, but not one iota less dramatic — returned to more or less the same spot, performing a long-sold-out show for a crowd of 1,998 at the Mahaffey.

The man they call Moz gets a bit of an unfair rap for his overly woe-is-me ways — he’s no grumblier than Radiohead’s Thom Yorke or The National’s Matt Berninger, two of his countless indie-rock disciples — and in truth, he seemed half-kidding about the sinkhole. I think.

But let’s not kid ourselves: Steven Patrick Morrissey’s trade is melodrama, and at 55, business is still pretty damn good. He still possesses the theatrical flair of an aging toreador, a man too grand to smile for the stage lights, and if you expected anything different, sorry, but the exit is thataway.

Morrissey entered following a lengthy pop-culture montage (The Wizard of Oz, the New York Dolls, Gypsy), a ceremonial bow with his militaristically disciplined bandmates and a quick spoken lyric from his song Glamorous Glue (“I used to dream, I used to vow, I wouldn’t dream of it now”) before diving headfirst into the Smiths’ catalog with Hand in Glove, whipping his microphone cord this way and that like Indiana Jones.

Most of his setlist culled from his solo career: The flouncy, Britpoppy Certain People I Know; the cinematic, Bowie-like Life is a Pigsty; the swaying slow-dancer I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday. He dropped a few songs from his forthcoming album World Peace is None Of Your Business, including The Bullfighter Dies, which boasts quite a bit of that classic Smiths jangle; and Istanbul, which would be a perfect theme to any Bond film set in Turkey.

Limited though it is, Morrissey’s weary croon has always suited his stage presence. On certain torch songs, his despair is framed and illuminated for the benefit of us all — literally, on Trouble Loves Me, which began with Morrissey facing away from the stage, silhouetted by a spotlight like a lonely piano-bar singer. And such a pained expression! Each time he closed his eyes and tilted back his head he seemed to be saying: Oh dear, oh heavens, oh I simply couldn’t OH WELL IF YOU INSIST. During I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris, he feigned a swoon near the lip of the stage, like some mid-’60s teenybopper idol. Then he actually BECAME a mid-’60s teenybopper idol by covering Frankie Valli’s To Give (The Reason I Live).

The drama was all in good fun — a little campy, even, but enjoyably so — and the crowd was devouring it all.

And then came the second Smiths song of the night: Meat Is Murder.

Morrissey is one of the world’s most outspoken animal rights activists, so the song choice itself was no shocker. What fans might not have expected, however, were the ultra-graphic animal torture porn videos that played above the stage. As Morrissey crooned and the band clashed away, the house was treated to bloody, disturbing footage of sick, wounded cows, pigs and poultry being beaten, stabbed and slaughtered. It wasn’t quite as intrusive as A Clockwork Orange’s Ludovico technique, but the weak of constitution probably felt violated nonetheless.

The Cult of Moz will tell you, if you can’t stand the meat, get out of the abattoir, and simply look away. Fair enough. But perhaps a warning is in order. Last fall, I attended a concert by R&B singer The Weeknd that featured a pretty graphic video of two lusty, topless women. The venue went out of its way to warn attendees of the “mature” nature of the concert. Might some in the crowd still have been offended? Sure, but at least they can’t say they weren’t warned.

Wherever you come down on the politics of your dinner plate, the point here is this: Meat Is Murder was a mood-killer. Too many fans looked uncomfortable. Applause for the encore was less than rapturous. The encore itself lasted all of one song. The house lights were on by around 10:20. That was it.

Is this really the Moz the world wants? A grim provocateur who’d rather gross out his audience than stir them with a rousing finale, like a proper entertainer who’s charging up to $90 per ticket?

Clearly, Morrissey himself doesn’t care. “To those of you who listened, thank you,” he said after returning following Meat Is Murder. “To those of you who didn’t listen, pfftht.”

Poke fun at Sad Moz all you want, but that guy still knows how to still put on a show. Militant Moz might want to take notes.

-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*

[Last modified: Saturday, May 31, 2014 2:01am]


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