Could it be? Morrissey really showed up this time. And then some.
Beleaguered fans had the right to be nervous after the traumatic events of 2012-2013, when the famously melancholic English singer postponed and ultimately canceled three dates in a row at Minneapolis’ Orpheum Theatre due to various health issues.
So unsurprisingly, Morrissey’s Monday booking was met with a lot of pent-up angst and anticipation in St. Paul’s sold-out, intimate 1,000-seat Fitzgerald Theater.
Morrissey is known for his obsessive, worshipful fans, and long before the curtain opened, many had gathered in the orchestra area in front of the seated theater, hoping to touch the man’s hand or even jump onstage. Finally he took the stage in a silver, deep V-necked shirt, bowed to his band, and simply declared “we are the world” before launching into his debut 1988 solo single, “Suedehead.” The song’s plaintive cry of “I’m so sickened” defined the sensitive young Morrissey, but it was one of the evening’s last glimpses into that old persona.
Twenty-eight years removed from the Smiths, Steven Patrick Morrissey, 56, has come a long way from his days as a forlorn, depressive frontman of that seminal 1980s indie band. Nowadays he seems more confident, more wryly cynical and perhaps a tad less self-absorbed. He even joked with fans when cheering prevented him from telling a story about driving around town during the day: “What, too much? Am I getting in the way of your texting?”
From there, the surprisingly forceful set, backed by Morrissey’s American- and Mexican-bred band, was heavy on songs from his edgy, cinematic 10th solo album, last year’s “World Peace Is None of Your Business” (the title’s ironic!). On that album’s title song, Morrissey lambastes a do-nothing political system; “each time you vote, you support the process,” he sang, commenting afterward, “That might be true, it might not.”
His Latin-rock-tinged latest single, “Kiss Me a Lot,” along with some Spanish lyrics and Spanish guitar sprinkled throughout the set, seemed to reference Morrissey’s late-career status as a huge star in Latin America (where they know a great singer when they hear one).
After all, if nothing else the middle-aged Morrissey has come into his own as a world-class crooner. On Monday, his slow, deliberate baritone sounded both classic Moz and more resonant with age.
Fans hoping for the avowed animal-rights activist to throw out some red meat (so to speak) in the form of Smiths songs had to settle for a few scraps: the MTV hit “Stop Me If You Think That You’ve Heard This One Before,” his chest-baring encore “What She Said,” and of course, the dirge-like, didactic “Meat Is Murder,” which served as a platform to show a clip of slaughterhouse videos while the band dealt out feedback with metallic intensity.
“If you want to save the planet, if you want to save yourself, if you want be compassionate, stop eating animals,” Morrissey commanded his followers.
He may have changed a lot, but on his deepest-held conviction, he’s still the same old Moz.