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Review and photos by Tony BonyataIt's been over two-and-a-half years since former Smiths frontman and now enigmatic solo artist Morrissey has performed on a Milwaukee stage but from the ravenous audience reception he received at the Riverside Theater last Saturday this might as well have been the encore to that show as the crowd was at a fever-pitch as soon as the singer set foot onstage.
Clad in blue shirt, black trousers and a short tousle of grey-streaked hair, the latter which he jokingly apologized for and promised would look better 'next time,' the 47 year-old singer lead his five-member rock outfit, all uniformly wearing white oxford shirts with rolled up sleeves, khaki slacks and closely cropped haircuts, through a whirlwind of songs from both his storied history with The Smiths and two-decade long solo career.
Moz and company opened with the title track from The Smiths' 1984 masterpiece The Queen Is Dead, which, with a decidedly more rocking arrangement, perfectly set the tone for the evening. Morrissey sashayed from each side of the stage using his mic cord as a whip while he teased the faithful at his feet by extending his hand into the crowd, which was quickly ensconced in a surging swell of hands. In support of his most recent album from last year, Ringleader of the Tormentors, Morrissey unfurled no less than seven of these gems, most notably the East Indian-laced heavy psychedelia of "I Will See You In Far Off Places," which instrumentally was akin to Led Zeppelin on a curry bender. Never one short on theatrics, the singer writhed on his back for over a minute during the conclusion of "Life Is A Pigsty" and ripped off his shirt to unabashedly unveil his rather pasty physique during "Let Me Kiss You" before tossing it out to those teeming in the front.
While a third of set list was from his latest album, the singer, nonetheless, worked in a healthy mix of hits from his solo years ("Everyday Is Like Sunday," "Disappointed" and "I've Changed My Plea To Guilty," all from his 1988 Viva Hate debut as well as the harder rocking "Irish Heart, English Blood" from 2004's return-to-form effort You Are The Quarry) along with a few older Smiths favorites ("Panic," "The Boy With The Thorn In His Side" and the deliciously hallucinogenic "How Soon Is Now"). And for the faithful he also unveiled a strong new unreleased track cheekily titled "All You Need Is Me."
Perhaps even more than celebrating his own career, this particular show paid homage to a few of Morrissey's longtime heroes and influences. Prior to the show there were short film clips of a '60s French pop star, a cross-dressing chanteuse and, most notably, a New York Dolls video from the mid-'70s along with a mid-'50s wardrobe test film of James Dean and his double trying on a myriad of different outfits. The latter two (The Dolls & Dean) made such an impact throughout his youth that he would go onto pen respective books on both under his given name of Steven Morrissey before his own music career got started. Dean's own iconic images would also be used the entire night as the singer's stage backdrop.
David Bowie was another artist who also weighed into his influences throughout his career. Not only did Morrissey tour with Bowie in the mid '90s - before things went sour between the two artists, but he also utilized Bowie's former guitarist Mick Ronson to produce his 1992 hit album Your Arsenal, as well as securing The Thin White Duke's longtime producer Tony Visconti for Ringleader of the Tormentors. So it was no shock that Morrissey should also tip his hat to this hero as well, which he did during his encore for a rousing take of Bowie's "Drive-In Saturday" from his 1973 Aladdin Sane LP. Despite the number obviously not being recognized by many in attendance, it turned out to be one the most engaging as the band turned in an amazing performance while Morrissey acted out the lyrics with all the verve of a master thespian. But instead of singing the original line of "when people stared in Jagger's eyes and scored," Morrissey crooned, "when people stared in David Johansen's eyes," again giving props to the New York Dolls' singer.
Closing out with the revved-up rockabilly number "You're Gonna Need Someone on Your Side" Morrissey lovingly taunted individuals in the audience until a flurry of both sexes were coerced to jump up and grab the singer before getting peeled off the showman by security guards.
With such a large and important back catalogue, Morrissey's show last week could have easily been nothing more than a pleasant trip down memory lane, instead it showcased an amazing talent that has become as much of a lasting icon as those that he worships.
|Morrissey's Milwaukee set list:|
The Queen Is Dead
The First of the Gang to Die
The Youngest Was the Most Loved
You Have Killed Me
Let Me Kiss You
I Just Want To See The Boy Happy
I Will See You In Far Off Places
I've Changed My Plea To Guilty
The National Front Disco
Everyday Is Like Sunday
At Last I Am Born
All You Need Is Me
The Boy With the Thorn in His Side
Irish Blood, English Heart
Life Is A Pigsty
How Soon Is Now
Drive-In Saturday [encore]
You're Gonna Need Someone on Your Side [encore]
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