Morrissey Rocks Pittsburgh, Spites Local Music Press

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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.

28We 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.

Scot Fleming
3/17/09

Kill Rock Stars

cover_1901222122007There’s a one-panel cartoon I saw in a magazine a dozen or more years ago that has a sad, loser-looking guy sitting on the floor amidst a bunch of record albums and a woman going out the door and addressing him: “I’m going out to the store for a bit. Try not to identify with too many song lyrics before I get back.”

It’s funny because it’s true. It’s also almost impossible to avoid sometimes. It’s like EVERY song is EXACTLY what you are feeling. Oh my God.

I defy anyone who has ever felt any human emotion to put on the Decemberists “Picaresque” album and not find one song to identify with.

I’ve had some live Decemberists tracks from shows from 2002 and 2003 for awhile. To be honest – I was looking forward to getting out to see them, but maybe more for the solo drive to Columbus. I love the band but they didn’t sound THAT great live on the few tracks I had downloaded from other fans.

Well the THING happened between their constant touring for the last album and then the recording of this new one and this tour. That same thing that happened to the girl next door that one summer in 1977 when she went out a lamb and came back in September a Lion.  The band is now fan-fucking-tastic live. They are now better live than on studio album. They are now this tight, confident band that is treading on Smiths level transcendance circa 1986.

I highly reccomend you try them out. Picaresque is a beautiful album. But there are many amazing diamonds among the last 4 albums as well. The bonus is the name of their label – Kill Rock Stars.

The Decemberists are not for everyone. But then, neither am I.

RIYL: The Smiths, Robyn Hitchcock, The Beatles, Victorian and Elizabethan England, The Sea, Ghost stories,  Old unused words like ‘parapets’, ‘pantaloons’, ‘petticoats’, or ‘pinions’, Bands comprised of ex-theater and english literature majors.