As Morrissey took the stage on the opening night of his residency at Broadway’s Lunt Fontanne Theatre, the first words he spoke were the week-long run’s catchphrase, an homage to both himself and the occasion: “There is a light that never goes out … on Broadway.” And while the show was not a Springsteen-esque autobiographical act — and he didn’t play either of those songs — it was a subtly curated journey through the past.
As promised, several hits were played during the 20-song set — “How Soon Is Now?,” “Suedehead,” “Everyday Is Like Sunday” — yet there were even more deep cuts, and one t-shirt design at the merch table included the titles of several songs he didn’t perform on this night (“Panic,” “Shoplifters of the World Unite,” “Irish Blood, English Heart”), which suggests that the setlists may be significantly different on each of the seven nights.
Morrissey’s long career, which stretches back to the first Smiths single in 1983, provides a nearly bottomless well of songs. He ranged from deeper Smiths cuts like the opening “That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore” to a pair of songs from his 2004 album “You Are the Quarry,” and played just one song from his forthcoming all-covers album “California Son” — “Morning Starship” by the late Jobriath, the ‘70s glam-ish rocker who is widely considered to be the first openly gay major-label pop star.
He spent much of the show near the edge of the stage, shaking hands, accepting gifts (many of which were either notebooks or books, including a copy of “Orwell on Freedom”), even autographing someone’s 7” single after the fan handed him a sharpie. His five-piece backing band — clad in matching black jeans and t-shirts bearing the words “Animal Rights Militia” — was tight and on-point, and the lighting was dramatic but not overbearing.
But apart from the man himself, the most arresting visuals came from a video backdrop that acted as a sort of impressionistic commentary on the songs being played — distinctly Morrissey-esque photographs or gif-like videos that were almost like live record sleeves. There were vintage images of actors (Peter Falk), writers (James Baldwin exuberantly dancing with a woman in someone’s living room) and other icons, occasionally with an image of the singer humorously photoshopped in: a Morrissey record sleeve was superimposed behind a young Joey Ramone; in another he was pulling a cigarette from James Dean’s mouth. Others were political, like footage of recent “Yellow Vest” protests in France or his longtime antagonist Margaret Thatcher about to be clobbered by a mounted policeman. Most disturbing, especially for this staunchly vegetarian-centric audience, were the violent bullfighting scenes that accompanied “The Bullfighter Dies.”
Yet it was all in service of the man, the myth, the Moz. He turns 60 this month and looks great, albeit with some thinning up top and some thickness in the middle. Yet incredibly, his voice has barely aged at all; it’s like a Dorian Gray of the larynx. During his cover of the Pretenders’ “Back on the Chain Gang” — which he said was “written by one of the great thinkers of the 20th century” — he matched Chrissie Hynde’s long, lung-challenging “wooooaaahh” with a seasoned strength and range; it was enough to make one wonder if his frequent and notorious concert cancellations genuinely are due to his high standards for himself. Clad in black jeans, a black tuxedo jacket, a ripped Morrissey t-shirt (bearing the words “It’s over”) and a rosary, he ambled around the stage in his trademark shambolic fashion, flipping the mic cord and embellishing the songs with comic grunts and grumbles. He peppered his between-song banter with characteristic cryptic quips — “You never know, you might make it to the end”; “The roar of greasepaint, the smell of the crowd” — and thankfully no politically questionable or off-color remarks.
And while the opening-night crowd responded ecstatically to nearly every song, it was an astonishingly polite audience — a few dozen people rushed to the front of the seated theater as the show began and remained for the duration, but there was no pushing or crushing; no one held their phone high for more than a few seconds.
The main set wound down with “Everyday Is Like Sunday” and ended with a medley of “What She Said” / “Rubber Ring,” in the arrangement the Smiths played in concert toward the end of their all-too-brief career. After a few minutes Moz and the group returned to play an oddly low-key encore, the 2004 ballad “Let Me Kiss You.” The group left the stage as another disturbing gif played on the screen, a black-and-white, Dali-esque film of a man shooting himself in the head and then sprouting a strange hat (or something like that), which looped for a long couple of minutes before the house lights came up. It ended the evening on a puzzling and melancholy note, but the crowd remained buoyant as they filed out of the theater — very politely, of course.
. That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore
. Alma Matters
. Hairdresser On Fire
. Is It Really So Strange?
. I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris
. How Soon Is Now?
. I Wish You Lonely
. World Peace Is None of Your Business
. Morning Starship (Jobriath cover)
. If You Don’t Like Me, Don’t Look at Me
. Munich Air Disaster 1958
. Back on the Chain Gang (Pretenders cover)
. The Bullfighter Dies
. Trouble Loves Me
. Jack the Ripper
. Seasick, Yet Still Docked
. Everyday Is Like Sunday
. What She Said / Rubber Ring
. Let Me Kiss You