Morrissey, looking dapper but casual in a pink shirt and silver tie, sauntered out on stage at the sold-out Aragon Ballroom, basked in the applause, took a bow, then took his spot behind the microphon

Morrissey, looking dapper but casual in a pink shirt and silver tie, sauntered out on stage at the sold-out Aragon Ballroom, basked in the applause, took a bow, then took his spot behind the microphone stand.

"So you see," he toyed, "reports of my death have been just slightly exaggerated." The crowd erupted in delight, their cheers even more pronounced after Morrissey and his band launched into the Smiths' "Panic."

"Reports of my death?" To the contrary. Morrissey's been very much alive as of late. Ever since breaking his self-imposed exile with "You Are the Quarry" and continuing through this year's "Ringleader of the Tormenters," Morrissey's been touring the world, selling out shows left and right and generally spouting off timely quips on cue. He's currently in the running to top a BBC-sponsored favorite "Living Icon" poll. Heck, by his own admission, he's even in love.

Maybe that explains why Morrissey was so chatty this Tuesday night. From offering Chicago a (metaphoric) embrace from his "beefy, locker room arms" to a brief audience interrogation wondering why he doesn't earn much coverage from the American media (the lack of interviews and the fact that this Chicago date was his sole U.S. stop this tour might have played a part), he was in fine, sly form and even, dare it be said, quite happy to be playing a place familiar to him since his days with the Smiths.

He was also quite happy to stick mostly to his most recent material as well as songs from that band, ignoring for the most part his early- to mid-solo career and its many classics; the leap from "Panic" to, for example, the epic (and largely tuneless) "Life is a Pigsty" failed to account for countless tracks his contingent would no doubt kill to hear. "Every Day Is Like Sunday" and "Disappointed" did draw from his early days, and "National Front Disco" nodded to the closest thing he's had to mainstream success in the U.S. But the rest of the set was tailor-made for his core adorers -- the fans who love the Smiths but still follow his current cult output.

What's so shocking is that no matter what songs Morrissey doles out for the faithful, his voice and in particular his phrasing remains in such strong form. That held true not just for oft-played anthems such as "How Soon Is Now?" but recent rockers like "You Have Killed Me" and the searing "Irish Blood, English Heart," songs that made "William, It Was Really Nothing" and "Girlfriend in a Coma" -- as lovely and welcome as they were -- sound especially wimpy in comparison.

Of course, Morrissey's secret weapon is that he's no wimp. Self-consciously effete, perhaps, and all too attuned to the power of camp, but not wimpy. He's still the New York Dolls fan he was when he's young, and even approaching 50 he proved a rage-filled song like "I Will See You in Far Off Places" (with its sneering ad libbed kiss-off to George W. Bush) could be as viscerally rousing in a way that even his best early work never pulled off or really even attempted. That's the ultimate sign of a very much living artist -- someone whose music, both old and new, sounds suited so perfectly for the here and now.

Here is Morrissey's set list:

"Panic"
"First of the Gang To Die"
"The Youngest Was the Most Loved"
"You Have Killed Me"
"Disappointed"
"Ganglord"
"William, It Was Really Nothing"
"Everyday Is Like Sunday"
"Dear God, Please Help Me"
"Let Me Kiss You"
"I've Changed My Plea To Guilty"
"In the Future When All's Well"
"Girlfriend in a Coma"
"Life Is a Pigsty"
"How Soon is Now?"
"Irish Blood, English Heart"
"I Just Want To See the Boy Happy"
"National Front Disco"

Encore:
"Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want"

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboard

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