The title of Morrissey’s new album “Years of Refusal” carried special ironic weight in Pittsburgh tonight.
Yes, it finally happened. Morrissey played Pittsburgh for the first time since the Smiths played here in 1986. The Minister of Manchester had been booked to play here twice during his highly acclaimed solo career, but canceled both gigs under a shroud of mystery and speculation. And everyone was on pins and needles that he might cancel right up until the lights went down, frankly.
But then they came back up and the Moz came out in a bombastic strobe-filled flourish on a stage resplendent with a massive beefcake backdrop. He just started up as if nothing. had. ever. happened.
And that’s when you looked at his aging, earnest features intent on giving the best show the crowd could muster out of him (if we deserved it) and you realize that – despite the petty, whiny whimsical conjecturing from the absolute dreariest of the local music snobs – and to be fair – many of the fans, Morrissey had no grudge, no axe to grind against Pittsburgh. Shit just happens. Psychosomatic ailments. Faulty electrical safety conditions. Migraines. Apathy. Whatever. We aren’t in a position to know or be told – but sometimes shit just happens. Twice. I found out about the second canceled show while getting out of my car to walk to the venue. I remember being peeved. I also attended other shows on those tours and enjoyed the NYC show the following week so it didn’t hit me quite so hard.
But to hear the Pittsburgh contingent of Morrissey’s online fan forums, or the local music press tell it – it was a personal affront so great, it had ignited a feud between the artist and our illustrious city. So much so in fact that it warranted a snarky mention on the singer’s 2006 album “Ringleader of the Tormentors” where he pleads with God to “Take anyone, take people from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, just spare me” which somehow the same local music writer has taken to be about our Pittsburgh germs? Please. It’s contrived grist-mongering, akin to the press-manufactured confusing feud our city has with Baltimore because somehow one Cleveland Browns wasn’t enough.
We didn’t get a begrudging show. We didn’t get an apathetic or aloof artist going through the motions. (well, no more aloof than usual anyway) What we got was the uncompromising, iconic presence of a legendary songwriter whose mature, acerbic, self-deprecating work at 50, is as relevant, powerful and catchy as his youthful, angst-ridden, self-deprecating work was at 25.
We heard a few references to “Finally making it to Pittsburgh” and a singer wrestling with start-of-tour vocal strain and still recovering from whatever ailment caused the cancellation of the first five US dates. We heard a band still working the kinks out of a new set list that included four (count ’em four) obligatory Smiths selections, a couple B-Sides and some new material. Moz’s longtime bandleader (with him far longer than Johnny Marr was) guitarist/songwriter Boz Boorer has put another solid band together once again, but they’re going to need a few more weeks of playing together if they’re going to be dragging out obscure gems like “I’ll Keep Mine Hidden” from 15 years ago. I’d love to see this band/set in August or September.
Perhaps more surprising is what we didn’t hear. We didn’t hear “Everyday is like Sunday” or “Suedehead” both FM Alt-Rock staples from the singer’s early solo catalog. While those tracks haven’t showed up for a few tours now and may have already had their days in the sun, we also didn’t get six of the 13 new album cuts from “Years of Refusal”. That’s virtually unheard of for a promotional album tour. Oddly, weaker numbers like “Black Cloud” got a turn while the big, strong “Mama Lay Softly On the Riverbed” and “It’s Not Your Birthday Anymore” went unplayed. I can only speculate that he chose more sotto voce numbers tonight for throat reasons.
So while the local gloomsayers in the press may have lost their bets on this one – loyal, longtime local fans’ perseverance finally paid off in spades as the band played the shit out of a kick-ass set in a the best sounding room in town.
The drought is over. Morrissey has finally thrown his arms around Pittsburgh.