In Los Angeles, every day is like Morrissey Day.
On Friday, it was officially so, the City of L.A. having bestowed the honor on its part-time resident to celebrate “an artist whose music has captivated and inspired generations of people who may not always fit in — because they were born to stand out,” as Mayor Eric Garcetti had said. And at the first of two sold-out nights at the Hollywood Bowl, Morrissey played Man of the Day with aplomb, gracious in a pre-concert ceremony and then riveting, even swoon-worthy, on stage for an hour and 50 minutes in front of 18,000 of his closest friends.
The performance included six songs from the new album “Low in High School,” which comes out next week, and revealed Morrissey in his many shades: romantic, brooding, wry, strident, theatrical. Coming less than a week after the last-minute cancellation of a concert in Central California because of cold weather, Friday’s show on a crisp 57-degree evening inspired an arsenal of snarky online speculation about whether he would actually appear. Morrissey did more than just show up.
Minutes before opening act Billy Idol kicked off his viciously good 45-minute set (a clinic in how to work a crowd), the anti-idol appeared at a brief ceremony in a room above the Bowl to accept a commemorative plaque from Councilwoman Monica Rodriquez. It was Rodriguez, elected in May to represent the 7th District, who introduced the City Council resolution to honor the Englishman, and suffice to say she is a fan. “I wear it with pride,” she said prior the ceremony, allowing as how she’d seen Morrissey in concert more than two dozen times.
Saying it honored “the man who put the ‘M’ in Moz Angeles,” she handed him the plaque.
“I’m very happy to have this,” Morrissey said. “I will try to live up to the fantastic reputation of the good people of this city. I’m very honored, I can’t really find words — there aren’t really any words. I’m very pleased, I’ll take it to bed, and thank you very much.”
Then it was off to work. Morrissey and his troupe — longtime cohort Boz Boorer, along with Mando Lopez, Matt Walker, Jesse Tobias and Gustavo Manzur (Moz, Boz & the Americans, somebody cracked) — took the stage for a bow, the frontman shirtless beneath a natty pinstriped suit and his mates wearing T-shirts that read “Who Will Protect Us From The Police?,” the title of a song on the new album.
The new songs, only three of which have been unveiled so far, did not earn the same roar of approval from the notoriously persnickety Moz faithful as his catalog nuggets. They should eventually, especially “Jacky’s Only Happy When She’s Up on the Stage” (released this week as a 7-inch single b/w a cover of Elvis’ “You’ll Be Gone,” which kicked off Friday’s concert) and “I Wish You Lonely,” an edgy rocker that allowed guitarist Tobias to show his chops.
The latter followed “Glamorous Glue,” a song celebrating its silver anniversary this year. It would have been a crime to omit this one on Morrissey Day, with its verse proclaiming “We look to Los Angeles / For the language we use.” Morrissey did ad-lib a line earlier in the song: “We won’t vote Republican / Because we never have.”
Morrissey the campaigner surfaced elsewhere in the concert, of course. He introduced “The Bullfighter Dies” by spitting the words, “España stop! España stop! España stop!” — an oblique reference to Catalonia’s independence effort, perhaps? Before launching into “World Peace Is None of Your Business,” he dryly noted, “Just when you think American politics can’t get any better, it doesn’t.” And: “The animal haters are losing,” he declared prior to “Meat Is Murder,” backed as usual by its graphic videos of slaughterhouses.
Yes, by the way, meat was a huge loser at the Bowl on Friday. The Bowl retooled its menu for the two Morrissey nights in accordance with the artist’s vegetarian wishes. On the ingredients list, for instance: fontina, cavolo nero, pecorino, sambal, freekeh, romesco, mechoui (a “market vegetable” version), labneh, harissa, gremolata, pistou, fricco (of the parmesan variety), fregola, torchio, zatar, muhammara, soffrito and salbixata.
You: “I’ll have the avocado and persimmon with ricotta salad and pomegranate salsa.” Me: “I’ll have Alex’s honey nut squash with freekeh, cashews, sweet peppers and cumin.”
(Hungry yet? Download the whole Morrissey Menu here.)
There was plenty of other musical sustenance as well — a cover of the Pretenders “Back on the Chain Gang,” which Moz dedicated to “my friend Chrissie who’s not allowed to leave the house,” and “Speedway,” which saw band members play musical chairs, with Manzur emerging from his station behind the keyboards to sing a verse in Spanish.
Nary a soul at the Bowl wasn’t singing along to “Everyday Is Like Sunday,” which closed the main set. The band returned after a couple of minutes. “California Republic,” Morrissey said, addressing the throng, “I hope I have lived up to my appalling reputation.”
“Suedehead” and “Shoplifters of the World Unite” followed, with Morrissey finally doffing his jacket to go shirtless. Fans lingered in anticipation of another song, but at 5 minutes till the Bowl’s 11 p.m. curfew, there would be no more.
There was merely the long walk out, and along Highland Avenue the vendors who didn’t get the Morrissey memo, selling their bacon-wrapped hot dogs.
Setlist: You’ll Be Gone (Elvis cover), I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish, Glamorous Glue, I Wish You Lonely, Jacky’s Only Happy When She’s Up on Stage, Kiss Me a Lot, When You Open Your Legs, How Soon Is Now?, Spent the Day in Bed, The Bullfighter Dies, Jack the Ripper, Home Is a Question Mark, My Love I’d Do Anything For You, I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris, Back on the Chain Gang (The Pretenders cover), All the Young People Must Fall in Love, Speedway, World Peace Is None of Your Business, Meat Is Murder, Everyday Is Like Sunday. Encore: Suedehead, Shoplifters of the World Unite
Top photo gallery by Andie Mills; lower gallery by Kevin Bronson