Friday, November 11, 2016

Morrissey concert review: Irvine, Calif., Night #2

2014 photo by Kelly Swift
When it comes to political views, Morrissey never minces words.

So his choice comments about the previous day's U.S. presidential election result while onstage Wednesday night at UC Irvine hardly came as a surprise.

Before the second of two sold out Bren Events Center concerts, a half hour long assortment of rare 1960s and '70s film, television and music clips (ranging from Ike & Tina Turner, Sonny & Cher to Ramones, Alice Cooper and New York Dolls) played on a video screen. Fans who likely saw similar archival material on past tours chatted away or attended to their cell phones. 

Then Morrissey (pictured above in Los Angeles) and the tight five-piece band launched their 90-minute performance with a strong take on "Shoplifters of the World Unite" - a top 20 U.K. hit in 1987 from The Smiths that the veteran singer hadn't dusted off live in at least three years. At one point, he put a fist to head and said, "today is the first day of the rest of your nightmares." 

Playing a handful of modern rock radio hits, half the 21-song set was comprised of 2000s material, including three from Morrissey's underrated, most recent effort "World Peace is None of Your Business." The intriguing title track saw him attempt to console people by saying "don't be too hard on America; statistically only 20 percent voted for you-know-who." Gustavo Manzur did a didgeridoo intro and Jesse Tobias let loose on a searing lead guitar solo while Morrissey pointedly sang, "each time you vote/you support the process." The lyrics partially revolved around police brutality and followed a similar theme as the intense "Ganglord." Despite health scares in recent years, Morrissey, 57, was in robust vocal form throughout the evening and the sound was fine.

Some understated drama in "Speedway" concluded with one of the musicians singing in Spanish, no doubt a nod to the Englishman's heavy Latino fanbase. Shrouded in smoke, he sang with arms outstretched, Messiah-like, during "Jack the Ripper" and Tobias let loose with more impressive careening guitar work.  

For the melodic splendor of "Alma Matters," the singer shook hands with some people up front, clutched his shirt and undid a few buttons for effect. It was definitely a highlight. The same held true for a glorious "I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris." A French flag image projected on the backdrop brought to mind the solidarity we felt after the terror attacks in that country a year ago. Predictably, one fan threw gladiolas onstage and a French horn solo drew loud cheers. 

Before the stately "Everyday is Like Sunday," Morrissey described the election as a "perilous day in political history" and compared it to 9/11. Fans sang along loudly to the eerie lyrics about Armageddon and nuclear bombs. The percolating "Ouija Board, Ouija Board" was equally enticing. Touchingly, "One of Our Own" was dedicated to Jennifer, a fan with colon cancer who attended the previous Friday's show in Irvine, met her idol backstage and unfortunately died on Tuesday. 

The shuffling, accordion and trumpet-infused "First of the Gang to Die" was exuberant as ever. Then Morrissey brought the energy level way down for The Smiths' dirge "Meat is Murder." Here, he introduced it by saying, "If you remove humans from the Earth, the planet thrives; if you remove animals, the planet dies." Gruesome images of animals being bludgeoned for consumption were projected behind the band. This downer moment has been a regular part of Morrissey shows for several years. I think most fans get that he believes vegetarianism is the way to go by now. 

Elsewhere, ebullient early solo hit "Suedehead" prompted another loud singalong and a jolt of energy within the venue. The main set concluded with frenzied Smiths song "What She Said" and the encore was a blast through The Ramones' "Judy is a Punk."

Upcoming tour dates:

11/12 Salt Lake City, UT
11/14 Boulder, CO
11/16 Dallas, TX
11/17 San Antonio, TX
11/19 Houston, TX
11/23 Detroit, MI
11/25 Cleveland, OH
11/27 Chicago, IL

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