During its nearly 120 year history, New York's Carnegie Hall has hosted performances by some of the world's most renowned musical deities, ranging from classical visionaries to jazz juggernauts and, occasionally, rock royalties. Now, 25 years after he began wallowing his way into the hearts of dejected alt-rockers the world over, Britpop godhead Steven Patrick Morrissey has etched his name in the hall's hallowed guestbook.
At first, the gorgeously restored space may not seem like the ideal venue for the Pope of Mope. The heavenly sounds of conventional choirs and symphonic orchestras still resonate most of often in the venue's 2,800-seat main auditorium.
But Morrissey, appropriately dressed in black tie for the occasion, didn't just look the part. He and his five-member band were elevated to a level of excellence that was only hinted at during their gig at downtown club Webster Hall the previous night. The Webster show punctuated Moz's revived rawness and vigor, but Carnegie coaxed out the sophisticated and seasoned showman who has earned his place alongside Frank Sinatra, Shirley Bassey, David Bowie and other contemporary artists that have performed on the iconic stage.
The 90-minute concert focused largely on Morrissey's new-millennium material (including eight tracks from his most recent album, "Years of Refusal"), with a few mid-career standouts and five songs from his early days with the Smiths peppered in to appease the diehards. Kicking off with a meaty rendition of the 1983 Smiths classic "This Charming Man," the band kept the crowd on its feet with upbeat favorites like "Irish Blood, English Heart," "First of the Gang to Die," the recently revived gem "Ask" and "How Soon Is Now?," whose rumbling guitar textures got an extra lift from the venue's unparalleled acoustics.
But it was on the ballads where Morrissey really worked his magic. "Death of a Disco Dancer" grew from an ominous whisper to raucous explosion of feedback and squalor that seemed to echo through the balconies long after the band ceased playing. "Seasick, Yet Still Docked" was performed like a tender lullaby, where Moz delivered biting lyrics like "I am a poor, freezingly cold soul" with a warm resonance others might apply to a love sonnet. And during "The World Is Full of Crashing Bores," he crooned about "uniformed whores" and "lock jawed pop stars" as fans in the front rows clamored for his outstretched hand – a spectacle the decorous Carnegie ushers probably don't witness too often.
On record, the biting cynicism and despondent outlook of Morrissey's lyrics often casts a shadow of darkness around the listener. But live, his petulance actually comes off more humorous than harrowing. For the entirety of the show, Moz reeked of an endearing self-awareness that both perpetuated and mocked his own image.
When a fan screamed, "Morrissey I love you!", he quickly replied, "I cannot be loved. I'm like a dog from the rescue home. There's no point." He didn't hesitate to rip off his shirt (a ritual that has survived since the Smiths era), but he did it while singing a line about "someone you physically despise." Moz's mannerisms have barely changed over the last two decades, but it's obvious that he now gets his own joke, which makes his melodramatic on-stage demeanor even more entertaining to witness.
"Thank you for your continued faith," he told the crowd before the night's final number. "Against waves and waves of persuasion, you're still here. And with one leg and one eye, so am I." Though it wasn't a perfect show – fans were only treated to a one-song encore, and the set would have benefited from songs from his early solo career –the understated pomp of Morrissey's Carnegie gig made it a outstanding occasion that was more than worth the rainy trip uptown.
This Charming Man
When Last I Spoke To Carol
How Soon Is Now?
Irish Blood, English Heart
Let Me Kiss You
I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris
How Can Anybody Possibly Know How I Feel?
Seasick, Yet Still Docked
I Keep Mine Hidden
The World Is Full Of Crashing Bores
Best Friend On The Payroll
Mama Lay Softly On The Riverbed
One Day Goodbye Will Be Farewell
Death Of A Disco Dancer
Sorry Doesn't Help
Something Is Squeezing My Skull
I'm OK By Myself
First Of The Gang To Die