Rock Review: Morrissey at The Anthem

IMG_4942It wasn’t until the encore that fans finally tried to get on stage and embrace their hero Morrissey at the Anthem in D.C..

There was no way they were going to threaten missing the rest of the show by trying it earlier. One accomplished a full hug; another was stopped before approaching. The star didn’t mind the adulation.

Because he’s canceled so many planned shows in town over the years, it seemed a gift that Morrissey finally appeared at all last Thursday.

In a fine show at the big new venue in D.C., the former Smiths frontman was in fine voice, shuffling up a setlist that he had been using on recent dates that emphasized his just released Low in High School but sprinkled with songs from throughout his career, including even inspirations, from Elvis Presley, whose obscure “It’s Now or Never”-like cha-cha, “You’ll Be Gone” opened the show, to the Pretenders, whose sturdy “Back on the Chain Gang” was warmly received with a sing-along.

That he hadn’t abandoned the Smiths entirely was a good thing, revving up the show cleverly with “I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish” and holding in reserve the sure power of “How Soon is Now?”

By the time he ended his final encore of “Shoplifters of the World Unite,” he had doffed the buttoned sports coat he had all evening, undone his white shirt and throwing it into the audience and bared his 58-year-old chest. Good restraint in keeping it on until then.

Beneath a picture of Morrissey coddling a colicky Trump-faced baby, he changed the chorus to “Trump-shifters of the world unite,” just a mile from the White House.

There’s no question Morrissey is politically minded, but it extends globally. So playing in front of his sharp multi-national band, whose keyboardist Gustavo Manzur twice took over lyrics in Spanish, he posited the question from his recent album “Who Will Protect Us from the Police?” but showing the shocking crackdowns in the video behind him not from Ferguson or Baltimore but from Caracas.

There’s an international flair, too, in the vaguely Eastern lilt to songs like “World Peace is None of Your Business” in which he sang, even as Congress was voting on its tax bill a couple miles away, “The rich must profit and get richer and the poor must stay poor.”

And yet its chorus showed its focus was much broader: “Brazil and Bahrain/ Oh, Egypt, Ukraine / So many people in pain.”

His is a nihilist’s view that “Each time you vote you support the process.” In the first single from the new album, he recommended “Stop watching the news / Because the news contrives to frighten you / To make you feel small and alone / To make you feel your mind isn’t your own.”

There seemed, in addition to world politics, a splash of sexuality on the new album as well, from “When You Open Your Legs” to “Home is a Question Mark” in which he implores a housemate to “wrap your legs around my face just to greet me.”

Any smarminess was kept in check by his keeping his jacket on — at least until the end.

The D.C. setlist was full of things he hadn’t been playing a whole lot lately, from “Glamorous Glue,” which he played immediately after his “Speedway,” to “I’m Not Sorry,” an odd mid tempo way to end the main set that so confused the audience it wasn’t clear at first they should demand the encore.

Throughout, his sonorous voice was strong, his approach boundless — taking in the entire 5,000 capacity club in his embrace. Whether it was picking up on his political vibe was unclear, but there was a swoon when he reached a favorite like “Everyday is Like Sunday” into which he freely interspersed the chorus of the 60s bossa nova “Tell Me Quando Quando Quando” in place of “every day is silent and grey.”

In his position, he was ready to change weather as well.

Preceding the show was a terrific half hour video of his favorite clips — ranging from Motown and James Brown to Dusty Springfield and Dionne Warwick, Stooges and New York Dolls with a couple of nude clips from old Warhol films to spice it up.

Just has he has festooned his album covers and his stage show with romantic black and white portraits of vintage pop culture (the present one using a lot of Dean Martin between songs), Morrissey emerges as a figure who deserves to stand among them.

 

The setlist for Morrissey at The Anthem Thursday was: 

  • “You’ll Be Gone”
  • “I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish”
  • “I Wish You Lonely”
  • “Speedway”
  • “Glamorous Glue”
  • “Jacky’s Only Happy When She’s Up on Stage”
  • “Munich Air Disaster 1958″
  • “Who Will Protect Us from the Police?”
  • “The Bullfighter Dies”
  • “How Soon is Now?”
  • “World Peace is None of Your Business”
  • “Hold On to Your Friends”
  • “My Love, I’d Do Anything for You”
  • “Back on the Chain Gang”
  • “Spent the Day in Bed”
  • “When You Open Your Legs”
  • “Jack the Ripper”
  • “Every Day is Like Sunday”
  • “Home is a Question Mark”
  • “I’m Not Sorry”
  • “Suedehead”
  • “Shoplifters of the World Unite”

 

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