While it might have felt like a disconnect to have somebody laconically nicknamed the Pope of Mope to play a concert on New Year’s Eve, Morrissey gave a rich performance that was as heavy on the message as the music Thursday night at the Galen Center.
He did not ring in the new year, however, the concert ending well short of midnight, but he did joke about the other New Year’s Eve fare in L.A. on this night. He pointed to the right, saying “If you went that way you could have gone to see the Grateful Dead” and, pointing left, “if you’d gone that way you could have seen Motley Crue. … Evidently you made the wrong choice.” That, of course, was met with disagreeing cheers.
The night began after a 30-minute video that looked like someone’s personal YouTube selects. Then the screen dropped and Morrissey began his set with “Suedehead” from 1988’s “Viva Hate.” At 56, and having battled some health problems, he still sounded full-bodied and energetic as ever. Whipping the microphone cable like a ribbon and grabbing the hands of his loyal and desperate hangers-on at the front row, Moz continued through his 23-song set rife with political and social asides, a screen behind his band projecting various images on topics the artist has confronted outside of music.
Turning over vocal duties to his keyboardist Gustavo Manzur, Morrissey played tambourine on “Speedway” during which guitarist Boz Boorer switched to drums, bassist Mando Lopez switched to guitar, and drummer Matt Walker switched to bass. While most of the projected images were still, “Ganglord” featured footage of police brutality.
He moved into The Smith’s track “How Soon Is Now” and, a couple later, the very popular “This Charming Man.” Also unsurprisingly in the mix was the topical “I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris.” Moz noted, “The thing that puts me off religion is religious people, otherwise I’d quite like it.”
Morrissey then went into a flamenco-style cover of Elvis Presley’s “You’ll Be Gone.” Well-known for being outspoken about politics and animal-rights, he joked about having watched the show “Here’s Lucy” as it made him laugh and then likened the show to CNN which he claimed to watch for the same reason. There was a hefty piano solo then the band went into “Everyday is Like Sunday” from “Viva Hate” and “All The Lazy Dykes” from 2004’s “You Are The Quarry.”
Also on the screen was a photo of Prince William and Princess Kate above lettering that said “United Kingdumb,” showing off Morrissey’s outspoken distaste for the Royals. Eventually, the visuals turned to more of his support of animal rights and veganism. During “The Bullfighter Dies,” he sang with gusto “Hooray, hooray / The bullfighter dies / Hooray, hooray / And nobody cries / Nobody cries / Because we all want the bull to survive.” And during Smith’s song “Meat Is Murder” the audience was subjected to hard-hitting slaughterhouse footage sure to jar some people into changes in the new year.
Either way, all of Morrissey’s messages are still as powerful as they have been for years. His mournful baritone voice and distinct few-note melodies are also just as relevant and are filled with a warranted hubris that has kept Moz in good form. So good, in fact, that he pulled off his shirt during main-set closer “Let Me Kiss You,” tossing it into a sea of out outstretched arms.
The band returned for an encore of The Smith’s song “The Queen Is Dead,” during which Morrissey removed another shirt and tossed it into the audience which had grown unhinged with stage-rushers. While Morrissey can come across as occasionally standoffish, he was very warm to his audience making sure to grab hands as well as letters that were held out to him. Patrons left the venue wondering what they were going to do with their final hour of 2015, as it probably would have been much better with a countdown from the man himself.
Photos by Michelle Shiers