Pasadena Civic Auditorium
Pasadena, California, USA
<February 1, 2007
Night: One of Three
"Don't cry for me, Pasadena," crooned the evening's headliner, arm elegantly raised up, as he made his way center stage, almost as if he was channeling the dead old bones of Evita Peron herself.
And with that, Morrissey and his unrecognizable backing band launched into a ferocious version of "Panic"- - an old chestnut that at one time, beautifully showcased the one-time duo of Morrissey & Marr as a new Glimmer Twins for the '80s. Instead...
I wasn't going to go to any of these shows, I promised myself. I sold myself into the notion that the old man just doesn't have it in him any more. After all, I've seen him at his post-Smiths' peak (It was the West Coast leg of the 1991 Kill Uncle tour, by the way) when he and the boys were rail thin, hungry and took on all comers.
Now, thanks to bootlegs and shitty YouTube transmissions of last months UK and European concerts, he just didn't seem all there for this Ringleaders tour. I wouldn't say he was phoning it in, but this is the man who'd flagellate himself with microphones and gladioli, crane his spine over floor monitors, and drag overweight worshippers across the stage by his legs as muscle-bound security men pried their claws off our hero's kneecaps.
But I have connections now and as opening night approached, those old excitable feelings that I used to get in high school (when a new Smiths single arrived par avion to my local mom-and-pop record shop) came flooding forth and I called in every favor I was allowed to get tickets for each night. Knowing someone who knows someone who knows someone at Bill Silva's (Moz's longtime US promoter) office paid off with seats, two rows, right-center, behind the pit.
Obviously, the roar of the crowd was deafening once we all figured out that the scrambled intro chords were indeed "Panic." The scene from the inner orchestra pit was chaos for a while, and it was a 2:20 minute struggle to find one's footing and secure a few inches or real estate against the railing, the bravest of us kept our positions about three feet away from the lip of the stage.
The audience was a mixed bag: Mostly young and Hispanic with exaggerated pompadours, incredibly baggy Levis and for the most part, overweight. I don't know how they did it, but they made up the lion's share of the 100 or so people in the orchestra pit, and they were more than happy to raise their plastic cups filled with Budweiser every time Morrissey came to their side of the stage. I've seen this gesture take place when mariachi bands play backyard wedding receptions, it's truly a sight.
The next handful of songs were off the new LP, Ringleader and while they were amazing live, they still had a canned sound due to some of the prerecorded effects and layers that the songs called for. The mix and the sound were impeccable, but that clean mix also brought out every mistake rookie keyboardist Vincent Jones made. Jones was off key with almost every song he was involved with-- the only thing that covered it up was the dueling distorted guitars of longtime player, Boz Boorer and the relatively recent addition, Jessie Tobias. The other three musicians: the aforementioned Jones, Solomon Walker on bass and Matt Walker on drums (not a rookie, but he is part of the silly, rotating cast of Spinal Tap-esque drummers Moz tends to choose) were practically playing their first gig with the band.
And maybe it was a joke just to prove that he can command it, but Morrissey dressed the band in incredibly horrendous tight, polyester, royal blue trousers and matching vests with black bowties. Picture flamboyant Good Humour men. And it didn't flatter Boorer at all considering he's well over 75 pounds overweight at this point. (He can still fucking blow on the sax though, as he did at the end of "I Just Want To See the Boy Happy"). I figure old Moz gets perverse pleasure an insecure bride gets in dressing up the help like embarrassing bridesmaids.
Personally, the night really didn't kick into high gear until the fifth song, "Disappointed"- - a song from what I consider the most prolific period of his solo years (or maybe he was just writing more tongue-in-cheek as opposed to the straight-forward lyrics he pens now). Surprisingly, the song didn't get the response I was expecting, nor did "William, It Was Really Nothing," performed a couple songs later. Those were a couple of the obvious highlights of the night, but fared little response. Conversely, everything off Ringleader got tremendous responses.
As far as in-between-song banter went (which, let's face it, is sometimes as interesting as the music itself), the jibber-jabber was kept to a minimum save for comments about Hillary Clinton and how a female leader is dangerous due to what history has taught us with Maggie Thatcher. I agree with him, but for differing reasons: There'll never be a female president because they're all catty and emotional, but I digress. And yes, he called out the obsessed super-fan, Julia Riley. The crowd roared with chants of "cunt" and "sick whore" when she warbled into the mic. Morrissey weakly came to her defense with a "Now, now, this is Pasadena-- a soft suburb," but we just kept chanting, "cunt, cunt, cunt," and oh how we laughed.
The hall itself was majestic as much as you'd expect from a cultured, old-money town like Pasadena, very pleasing to the eye: Older architecture, expensive banners with Morrissey's image in full color waving in the chilly air and the kindest old grandmas in mustard-colored blazers in the lobby, directing the unwashed masses to the bathrooms and the merchandise booth.
Speaking of merchandise, expect prices of Rolling Stones proportions: A girls-cut shirt will run you $40 while the larger men's-cut shirts will set you back $35. And I can attest to the fact that the designs for all of them are sub-standard. I bought three bootleg shirts for $25 after the gig with top-shelf silk screening on both sides-- that's right-- both sides of the garment. Those on a budget might want to consider the $2 badge (so small, it was impossible to make out the design), a $15 coffee mug and a $15 tie tack that's going to fucking look amazing at the next formal occasion I attend. Oh, I almost forgot-- a tiny, forgettable poster of Father Steven Patrick in full priest garb.
Ultimately, it was a great performance, not his best by a long shot though-- anyone who went who tells you it was his best never saw him with the Smiths or even his first two tours, the aforementioned Kill Uncle tour and the riotous Your Arsenal affair. The problem is that he only plays to the first 25 rows, beyond that, everyone else is forgotten and that's fine by me since I'm up front, but he tends to forget that these days.
I can only imaging how confusing it must be to the mouth-breathers in the back who've been told for years how amazing a Morrissey show is. Well, it is exciting-- exciting as it ever was. Only in 2007, you have to muscle your way to the front of the stage to experience the electricity that once radiated throughout the biggest arenas in the country.
So we'll see if old Moz has any new tricks up his sleeve tonight. Look for the review of Friday's gig on Saturday morning and Saturday's gig on Sunday morning. And if you see me, you can buy me a plactic cup of vodka and we'll raise them in unison as He graces us on our side of the stage.
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Read Alarcon's wordy review of the "Ringleader of the Tormentors" LP here and while you're at it, please read our two earlier Ringleader concert reviews from last year's tour: Moz at the Alexandra Palace on May 1, 2006 and Moz at Wembley on December 8, 2006-- written by our handsome UK Editor, Kirk Lake.