Morrissey Addresses Police Brutality, Factory Farming (But Not the Election) at Brooklyn Show: Recap

Gabriel Olsen/FilmMagic
Morrissey performs at Staples Center on March 1, 2013 in Los Angeles.

It would almost be too easy for Morrissey to get on stage these days and talk current events. Since his time fronting The Smiths, the pompadoured god of British indie rock has been obsessed with the absurdity, vulgarity, and cruelty of mankind. All three are kind of having a moment right now.

And yet as Morrissey capped a four-date American tour on Saturday (Sept. 24) at the King’s Theater in Brooklyn, N.Y., the outspoken singer made only one direct reference to the most farcical, terrifying story dominating the current news cycle.

“Do you ever get the feeling the next U.S. president is none of your business?” Morrissey asked seven songs into the set, indicting the media and big business and introducing 2014’s “World Peace Is None of Your Business,” the title track from his most recent studio album.

“World Peace,” like many of the selections Morrissey favored on Saturday, is a mixed blessing from what’s essentially the third act in his career. After The Smiths broke up in 1987, he made brilliant solo records for about a decade, amping up his audacious wit and outsider personality to compensate for the emotive shimmer no longer supplied by Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr. Following a seven-year recording hiatus, Moz returned in 2004 with You Are the Quarry -- 11 of Saturday’s 22 songs came from that album or later.

The lesser of those latter-day cuts (”All the Lazy Dykes” and “How Can Anybody Possibly Know How I Feel?”) are tuneless, obvious, and well beneath the standards of rock’s Oscar Wilde. Next to Saturday highlights like the always-welcome opener “Suedehead” and the deliciously backhanded love song “You’re the One for Me, Fatty,” those 21st century duds support the notion the 57-year-old’s best work is behind him.

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They also reveal a dogged refusal to succumb to nostalgia, and because Moz sings them so robustly -- with the help of a backing band that does jangle and twang with stadium force -- they almost deserve to crowd out the canonical solo and Smiths gems he might otherwise coast by on.

Morrissey certainly isn’t coasting. Looking sturdy as ever following a string of recent health scares, including a bout with cancer, Moz whipped up his usual quasi-religious fervor, using his mic cable to flog imaginary foes and occasionally reaching into the pit, where fans angled wildly for a touch of his hand. A couple managed to crash the stage during “Everyday Is Like Sunday,” one of the early solo singles likely to bring about rapture.

Other times, Morrissey relied on visuals to make his points. During his requisite reading of “Meat Is Murder” -- the pro-vegetarian Smiths tune that’s about as subtle as those bolt guns they use to kill cows -- the militant animal-rights advocate made effective use of factory-farm footage. The video didn’t make the song any more listenable, but it changed the tone from nagging to chilling, and that seemed to make sense.

He made even better use of camcorder horrors on “Ganglord,” a scraping 2006 B-side about police overreach. As Moz sang of how the law was “grinding me into the ground,” brutal images of cops beating citizens -- most of them black -- flashed in the background. At the very end, he modified the lyrics slightly, suggesting that what officers actually mean by “protect and serve” is “get your black ass back to the ghetto.”

Were it not such an obscurity, “Ganglord” would’ve made a powerful encore. Instead, Moz paid tribute to some of his teenage heroes by covering The Ramones’ “Judy Is a Punk,” then bore down hard on 2004’s “Irish Blood, English Heart,” arguably his last truly great song.

With references to both modern British politics and Oliver Cromwell -- a guy who would’ve really had the pundits going in the 17th century -- ”Irish Blood” will always be a timely closer. Decades change. Humans stay awful. Moz keeps rolling.

Setlist:
1. Suedehead
2. You Have Killed Me
3. Alma Matters
4. Ouija Board, Ouija Board
5. The Bullfighter Dies
6. I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris
7. World Peace Is None of Your Business
8. Ganglord
9. Speedway
10. Kiss Me a Lot
11. How Can Anybody Possibly Know How I Feel?
12. All the Lazy Dykes
13. Meat Is Murder
14. Everyday Is Like Sunday
15. The World Is Full of Crashing Bores
16. All You Need Is Me
17. You're the One for Me, Fatty
18. How Soon Is Now?
19. Jack the Ripper
20. What She Said

Encore:

21. Judy Is a Punk
22. Irish Blood, English Heart