The last time Morrissey played a show in Boston, he hadn't had a new album in three years, and didn't even have a record label to call home. That was in 2000, and throughout his concert that evening, he continually thanked his audience for their loyalty.
Last night, even with a critically-acclaimed new album and a resurrected career, the singer-songwriter was no less gracious during his more than 90-minute performance at the Orpheum Theatre. Backed with a crackling sharp five-piece band, Morrissey took the stage flanked by a backdrop of oversized letters spelling out his name in flashing red lights. Brandishing his microphone cord like a whip, he charged into the "First of the Gang to Die," one of the best songs from his current album, "You Are the Quarry." It's a sorrowful song of a young man's needless death, but as often happens with Morrissey's tunes, the most dire tales are wrapped in the sunniest melodies. And it was impossible not to get swept away on Morrissey's cascading final lines, "And he stole all hearts a-way, ha-hey, ha-hey, ha-hey."
At 45, Morrissey has gotten somewhat fleshier, but his voice remains solid and strong. This being a tour to promote his album, Morrissey served up several tracks, including "The World Is Full of Crashing Bores," "How Can Anybody Possibly Know How I Feel?" and the ferocious "Irish Blood, English Heart."
But he also tended to his lengthy catalog of songs, which date back to his tenure in the Smiths, one of the 1980s most influential bands. "Bigmouth Strikes Again" shimmered like a charm, and "There is a Light That Never Goes Out," which he performed during his encore, remains one of the loveliest songs ever written to include a line about getting squashed by a 10-ton truck.
A high point, of course, was "How Soon is Now?" which is arguably one of the greatest rock songs of the past quarter-century. Its youthful yearnings for love have grown even more poignant and desperate as Morrissey (and his fans) have gotten older. And he didn't neglect his earlier solo hits, rolling off such favorites as the dazzling "Now My Heart is Full," "The More You Ignore Me, the Closer I Get," and "November Spawned a Monster."
In between songs, Morrissey was very chatty, criticizing President Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice ("My advice is to be very scared") and offering an endorsement of sorts for Democratic presidential candidate Senator John Kerry, who, Morrissey said, "has a really funny face, but he's got to be the next president." And when he tossed one of his sweat-soaked shirts into the audience, there was such a scuffle you would have thought it was a record-breaking home run ball.
Morrissey is scheduled to play again tonight at the Orpheum.
With Damien Dempsey
At Orpheum Theatre, last night