Anyone confused about what ‘camp’ refers to after witnessing the scattershot interpretation proffered by the Met Gala red carpet should be advised to head southward in Manhattan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to Broadway – specifically, the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, which is housing Morrissey’s seven-night residency. From the opening video montage — which features clips of everything from drag legend Divine to exquisitely excessive old Hollywood — to the sublimely ridiculous images that grace the screen behind Moz as he performs (a particular standout is a doctored image of Morrissey lighting a cigarette for James Dean, gazing longingly at the dead sex symbol while he takes his first puff), true camp has found a temporary home.
And seemingly, so has Morrissey. The alt-rock icon was comfortable, crackling and alive when he hit the stage Tuesday (May 7) for electric opener “First of the Gang to Die,” which demonstrated that the lustrous breadth of his high baritone remains as controlled and compelling as ever. Saved from the rigors of the road, a residency (Broadway or otherwise) can give an artist time to relax and stretch out vocally and/or instrumentally, and Morrissey and his potent backing band took full advantage of that during their 20-song set.
Unlike a normal Broadway show, a musical residency means, for better or worse, you’re gonna see cell phones. How soon did they come out Tuesday night? The moment the opening chords of the Smiths’ reverb-laden odyssey “How Soon Is Now?” rang out. As he sang favorites and deep cuts from his lengthy career, Morrissey whipped the mic cord around the stage with the demonstrative flair of a matador – a profession he naturally despises, and in fact cheered on the death of during “The Bullfighter Dies” (and truly, the footage of this barbaric form of ‘entertainment’ that played on the screen behind him makes it clear why this ritual needs to be retired).
The only other near-political moment was his matter-of-fact disavowal of television news, which he urged the crowd to abandon. “I feed the cat on time,” he said, extolling the value of turning the TV off. “I live sometimes. If you’re still watching the TV news, you’re missing so much.”
But proselytizing wasn’t the theme of the evening, and Morrissey let his music and his palpable love for others’ take most of the spotlight. His sincere version of “Back on the Chain Gang” (written by his pal Chrissie Hynde) was almost as heartbreaking as the original, and his take on queer rock pioneer Jobriath’s “Morning Starship” is a delightful negotiation between the glam of the original and his own distinctive sound, which bodes well not only for his upcoming all-covers album California Son but any potential live shows that might be heavy on the borrowed material.
Morrissey also seemed to be in a playful mood, coquettishly chiding the crowd “you only like him because I like him” before covering Jobriath and cheekily flashing his own Playbill while singing the lyric “why send me silly notes?” during the “Suedehead” finale.
His debut single might’ve been the last song he left the crowd with, but it wasn’t the last piece of performance. When he returned to the stage for the encore, he’d switched shirts, and just before leaving the crowd, he ripped it off, letting the crowd soak in his barrel-chested glory for a few moments before strutting away. Because, ya know, camp.