Morrissey Rocks Pittsburgh, Spites Local Music Press


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

Shout Out Loud


I found the unused vintage KISS logo iron on transfer on ebay a year ago. Same one I had in 1975. Rainbow glitter. I found a black tee and washed it a few times with bleach to get it to the right shade of vintage off-black. Then I tried my best at simulating the mall iron-on transfer kiosk heat-press by putting the iron on super hot, laying the shirt on the floor and practically standing on top of it to apply the logo to the shirt. Did this a while ago and numerous washings have even started to lift up the corner of the vinyl transfer giving it the true retro look.

I wear it when I’m feeling particularly ratty, or particularly stylish. With jeans and a jacket – it’s da bomb.

I was wearing it one day when I was having lunch with my friend that owns a guitar store. As we were coming back to his store from the parking lot, I see a kid coming out of the music store with his Mom and dad. We were walking toward each other and still about 20 feet away. The kid looked about 13. He had this crazy head of permy looking hair, like that dude from The Strokes or those early photos of Dylan where he looks young, geeky,  vibrant, lucid and capable of cracking a smile.

The kid was with his parents. I don’t know if they were picking him up from lessons or shopping for guitars. He was walking with a bit of that ‘too cool to be seen with my folks’ slump, But not so much that you want to slap him for it. More like he’s just trying to distance himself a bit to be cool, but he’s respectful that they might be buying him his first Epiphone Flying V.

He’s wearing a 3/4 sleeve baseball tee with a more recent KISS design on it. As I see him and his shirt, he sees me and my shirt. His gaze meets mine and without breaking stride, widening his eyes or giving any other sign of acknowledgement – he simply cocks his index finger and thumb (gun fingers) at me and mouths silently “nice shirt.”  As we got closer I returned the gesture with a nod and an audible “right back atcha”  that mystified both his parents and my friend walking with me.

He could have chosen other ways to communicate the brotherhood of the shirt. He could have given the Clinton thumbs-up or the ‘metal-devil-horn’ fingers. He could have pointed it out to his parents “Look, there’s an old guy who likes KISS too Mom!” He could have. But he didn’t. The combination of the Sinatra-esque point along with the silence of the  ‘nice shirt’ comment launched him right over the rico suave barrier.

The kid is cooler at 13 than I ever got to in the height of my powers.
The world could use more of him.
Adolescent white teen suburban rockers who dig KISS and know the difference between seeming like you’re not with your parents and just being a prick.


No YOU had the wooden teeth…


From my sister’s Blog, “Liberus Lunaris”:

“My family agrees on two things: we all like Jesus Christ Superstar and we all like John Lennon. Two of my favorite all family outings were when we attended a local production of JCSS and when we went to the Rock n roll Hall of Fame and saw the Lennon Exhibit.

It was after the former when I realized how much the average person doesn’t know about musical theater when my brother, usually rather hip about artistic things, expressed surprise that the character of Herod would be interpreted as a Drag Queen. It’s a traditional theatrical convention almost as sacred as Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest being played by a man…”


My family actually have agreed on many things in their history. One of them being my sister’s penchant for revisionist history. Well, I don’t think she will ever cop to it. But then – I really don’t think my Father liked Jesus Christ Superstar or John Lennon all that much either. And he never went with us to the local JCS performance. But her blog subtitle says “It’s not a lie – it’s a gift for fiction” and really – that’s how we all see it too. Lots of the facts are correct but sometimes she changes a detail here or there that others may have done or said. That’s the broadest, most diplomatic way I can paint it. We all (my family) have memories that exemplify God’s British style sense of humor.

I’ve been to three local performances of JCS. One in Indiana, PA in 1987. One in 1992 when Ted Neely and Carl Anderson revived it. And I know I went to at least one of them with my  family. I am 90% certain that the one she is referring to was the 1994 ‘official traveling Broadway’ version which was memorable for two reasons:

1) Dennis DeYoung played Pontius Pilate

2) They abandoned the hydraulic crucifixion stage.

Now, there are things you need to know about me and JCS. I LOVE Jesus Christ Superstar. I mean – forget  Madonna, Stevie Nicks and 60’s Brit Girl Go-Go-Boots Pop – my most secret musical pleasure is listening to JCS. The original 1970 British album recording. The BROWN double album with the gold graphic logo. Not the photo-cover movie soundtrack. And NOT the American Broadway cast version.   I listened to this album SO much – I can tell the difference in any of the recordings within the first 4 seconds of the ominous Overture’s drone cellos. I know all the words to all of the songs. I secretly rehearsed the Judas role when I was younger in hopes that our school would put it on and I would get the part. I can do it right now for you if you like.

I really, really like this album.

You can take all the general bad will, disdain and derision I harbor for live theater as a whole and musical theater as a subgroup and it wouldn’t equal up to the love I have for JCS. And as it turns out – there are understandable reasons for this.

First – The original British recording (Brown album) with Ian Gillian (Deep Purple) and Murray Head is the absolute only one worth listening to. The weird thing about JCS is that it was not  a musical first. It was released as a studio ‘rock opera’ album first. Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice, both nineteen at the time, created this opera and got the most amazing bunch of singers and musicians that could be found, coupled them with traditionally superior British recording engineers and made a transcendent rock album. Not an album done with the cast of a show already in existence or even planned.

ust – a rock album.

It was a hit. Then the show went to Broadway in 1971. Then BACK to London’s West End in 1972. Then the guy that played Pilate on the original brown album decided to direct it as a movie in 1973. The original brown album’s music and singing were so much better than any subsequent version because they had rock musicians doing it. It was supposed to be a “ROCK opera”. But, after that album apparently the cast decisions have been made based upon theater experience vs. rock chops. So in every version since we get overly emotive, loud, vibrato-filled performances where the only criteria for Jesus’ role was to be able to hit the high arena rock notes of “My temple should be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves!” (if there is any doubt here – witness the recent choice of Whitesnake’s  Sebastian Bach in the Jesus role. Then witness the reviews.) Don’t get me wrong – Ted Neely and Carl Anderson were fantastic too, possibly better than the originals. And of course Yvonne Elliman, as the single Kevin Bacon thread that made sure she got herself into EVERY version of the show including, I think, an Icelandic touring production – wasn’t bad either. But the instrumentation of every other recorded version blows. The secondary and tertiary characters’ singing almost all stink. The engineering and mixing all suck. So – if this makes you curious – only listen to the big gold logo brown album version. (which apparently has been digitally remastered as a big gold logo white CD version)

Conversely – I will sit through any live rendition of the show at all. Aboriginal touring cast? Sure. Eighth grade school for the deaf production? Sign me up. I don’t know why. I just love this show. And there is something amazing about the fact that both Ted Neely and Carl Anderson revived their roles like 4 times since 1972, the last of which was 3 years ago. Carl Anderson was slated to be doing Judas now, during this current tour but sadly died of Leukemia in 2004.

So – here was my family at this 1996 “revival” of the Broadway show with ex-Styx singer Dennis DeYoung as Pontius Pilate. Apart from the mixed signals that were being triggered in my brain from the ridiculous juxtaposition of  “I dreamed I met a Gallilean” being sung by the same voice that blasted “Rockin’ the Paradise tonight” in my headphones in 1975 – the show was pretty good. The only crap thing was when they got to the crucifixion scene – no hydraulic lift stage.

Now – my sister has thrown the gauntlet down that I am lacking in knowledge about ‘sacred theater conventions’ and I pray to all that’s holy that she is right and will stay right about that for the rest of my life. However, I do know a few things about theater. I know that even, nay especially in theater if a “sacred theater convention” comes into existence over the years then sure as Pooh Bear loves honey – there will be plenty of  fabulous, desperately-breakthrough directors that will strive to discard those conventions as if their lives depended on it.

“We’re doing CATS but with no music!”  “We’re doing an all black, hip-hop version of Annie Get Your Gun!” “We’re doing Hamlet except with all women!” and one of my sister’s favorites – “We’re doing the Wiz with an all-white high school cast!” (that one was real, it was 1979, I played the Wiz – seriously. Is there any wonder I am left with a bad taste for live theater?)

So while I NEVER would have been surprised by the idea of Herod being played as a Drag Queen – being as the original Mike D’abo part was supposed to have been Elton John on the album and then went to the movie version as a Benny Hill romp with Josh Mostel prancing around like Charles Nelson Reilly in Lidsville on fire like the freaking Ohio Players. However, a few productions of the show did NOT always take Herod over the top and this 1996 version we had seen seemed to have toned down much of the ‘spectacle’ aspect to the show (other than the aforementioned Come Sail Away flavor and I DID comment that I thought it was odd that THIS version was doing the Herod drag queen thing. Because THIS version couldn’t even keep alive the one true “sacred theater convention” that it really needed which was the damn hydraulic lifting stage for the crucifixion!! 

One last bit of JCS trivia that brings it all home. In July of 1971, after the original concept album was such a big hit – Weber and Rice were planning to take the show to Broadway but needed to debut the show in an arena setting  and still have it be sort of a ‘one-off’ tryout show to gauge the public’s acceptance. If it tanked – it might not have gone to Broadway. If it did well – it would arrive with much less trepidation from the producers. Remember this was the first time what was essentially a rock concert would be staged on Broadway. So they did a single, fantastic blowout show to prove what they had envisioned. Before London’s West End. Before Broadway’s Mark Hellinger Theater debut. The very first EVER live staged production of Superstar, personally directed and conducted by Weber and Rice themselves took place in July, 1971 in Pittsburgh at the Civic Arena for a crowd of 13,000.

God Bless Rock and Roll