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October 27, 2004

Pope of Mope pleases fans old and new at the Aragon

One never knows quite what to expect at a Morrissey show. While this blanket statement is applicable in any number of ways, let's start with the most immediately apparent: the audience. By this point, Morrissey's obsessive fan base draws from so many subcultures that his audiences look about as diverse as a general-population sample. The demographic best represented on Friday night was the "old Morrissey fan": Between 25 and 40 years of age, looking more like a parent than a concert-goer and possibly sporting an old Moz tour shirt as if it were a badge of honor. Meanwhile, Goths showed off their new tattoos to each other and young hipsters chain-smoked nervously (despite Morrissey's prohibition on smoking at all shows).

But the truly remarkable thing about Morrissey is not the type of people he attracts to his music, but rather the obsessive devotion he draws from them. When Morrissey finally took the stage after a drawn-out intro, something else unexpected happened. He launched into "How Soon Is Now?," the Smiths' only U.S. radio hit. As that classic staccato guitar line ripped through the room, the crowd rushed the stage, singing, dancing, and (in rare instances) crying. Under the glow of a ten-foot tall sign spelling out "MORRISSEY" in red lights, the man of the hour strutted, belting out in that unmistakable voice, "I am human and I need to be loved/Just like anybody else does." When a bouquet of orchids flew towards the stage, he caught them and expertly tossed them back into the crowd. We could all feel it; the Moz was back.

Just don't call it a comeback. Despite a reluctance to play the Smiths' songs since their breakup in '87, Morrissey has finally started to consistently work them into his set, making many a fan's dream come true—especially those fans too young to have seen the Smiths during their short lifespan. Additionally, this is his first major tour in years, supporting the excellent You Are the Quarry, his first record since 1997's ill-received Maladjusted.

Never one to let his past outshine him, Morrissey chose to follow up the opener with "First of the Gang to Die," the strongest of his new batch of songs. With his outstanding backing band behind him, the song roared to life, eliciting nearly as much excitement as the opening number. Morrissey's voice sounded as good as ever as he sang his trademark tragicomic lyrics: "And he stole from the rich and the poor/And the not-very-rich/And the very poor/And he stole all hearts away." During "November Spawned A Monster," he unbuttoned his shirt and caressed himself before laying down on the stage and writhing, just as he had in the old days. "You do realize that if that Bush character gets back in, Iraq will be safer than America," he joked before "The World is Full of Crashing Bores." Afterwards, he ripped off his shirt and threw it into the audience before running backstage for a change of clothes (he would do this two more times before the end of the night).

During the Smiths' classic "Bigmouth Strikes Again," the Pope of Mope proved that he's still in touch by substituting "And now I know how Joan of Arc felt/As the flames rose to her Roman nose and her iPod started to melt" for the song's infamous "Walkman" lyric. He briefly congratulated himself for three top 10 singles in Britain this year (a new record for him), before performing his new single "Let Me Kiss You." "It's much better on the CD, but thanks anyway," he quipped. An unexpected and spot-on performance of the Smiths' "Rubber Ring" followed—replete with a sample of Latvian psychologist Konstantin Raudive. When he played You Are the Quarry's first single "Irish Blood, English Heart" next, the crowd worked into a frenzy. On record, the song's pop-punk choruses sound almost tailor-made for the radio, due to Jerry Finn's slick production. However, live, the song was born again—its signature guitar squeals and heavy riffs standing up to the best of Morrissey's back catalog.

"Do you really like these songs?" Morrissey asked afterward, "Have you ever asked yourself why?" As if the answer wasn't already clear, he proceeded to play "Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me," unveiling a disco ball in the process. The formal set closed with what is perhaps the finest single of Morrissey's solo career, "Everyday is Like Sunday," from 1988's Viva Hate.

When the band reappeared for an encore amidst fanatical applause, Morrissey took the opportunity to philosophize. "You know this world is changing," he said, looking into the faces of his adoring fans. "God knows we're all just going to dust." The disco ball spun once more as the band performed the most adored song in the Smiths' catalog, "There is a Light That Never Goes Out." As he pranced beneath the bright lights, the ever-ambiguous Morrissey looked as good as he ever had, "And if a 10-ton truck/Kills the both of us/To die by your side/Well, the pleasure, the privilege is mine." Yes, Morrissey, the world is changing. But so long as you stay the same, I think we'll be just fine.