Morrissey and his boys recently followed up Years of Refusal, the best album of 2009 (so far), with the best show of the year (so far) with the Tour of Refusal at Philadelphia's Academy of Music Sun., March 22nd, which also featured a competent opening set from post-punk purveyors the Courteeners. In front of a banner of topless young man chomping on a cigar (phallic-tastic!), Morrissey swore early on that "You know, academy is Greek for school, learning, and I promise youâ?¦you won't learn anything." He was right to the extent that I didn't learn anything with heavy social relevance, like how to file my taxes or the significance of Eli Whitney's inventions, but I did walk away with a few lessons:
- Morrissey has one of the best touring bands right now. Guitarists Boz Boorer and Jesse Tobias, bassist Solomon Walker, multi-instrumentalist Michael Farrell, and most of all drummer Matt Walker -- he had a gong and he used it, clam flammit -- know how to put on a show just as much as their theatrical frontman.
- Just because Morrissey built his fanbase on the strength of songs like "I Know It's Over," "Asleep," and "I Won't Share You" doesn't mean he can't rock. The guy's punk and glam roots were evident with every rocking note. He really honored the New York Dolls, whose "Looking for a Kiss" played before the show.
- More orchestral/ballet-minded venues like Academy of Music will always be better than rock venues because they're actually built for live music.
- Apparently, just because it's a rock show doesn't mean you don't have to dress up. Old folks and young bucks alike were decked out in their Sunday's finest. I almost felt like a schmuck for wearing jeans and an X-Men track jacket. Almost.
- I have to see Morrissey live every chance I get until one of us dies.
Of course, it helps that the set list was strong, with a decent mix of Smiths and solo material. Overall, the band didn't rely too much on `80s tunes, with only four Smiths songs showing up -- Matt Walker rocked the balls off of set-opener "This Charming Man" while his sibling and Boorer brought plenty of dissonance to "How Soon Is Now?" and "Death of a Disco Dancer." "Ask" finished off the Smiths references; each performance inspired dancing among the venue's many balconies. Solo cuts included "Billy Budd" from Vauhall and I and "Seassick, Yet Still Docked" from Your Arsenal. 2004's You Are the Quarry and Years of Refusal got the most representation, with five and six songs each.
The new material sounds great live, so much so that I was a little bummed I didn't get to hear more of it. Still, though, hearing songs like "Something Is Squeezing My Skull" and "One Day Goodbye Will Be Farewell" was a joy. Same goes for "Irish Blood, English Heart" and the sole song from the encore, "First of the Gang to Die." Morrissey barely made it through the opening lines before audience members haphazardly tried to tackle him with ravenous fanboy/girl lust. Think Duck Hunt on easy. By the time Morrissey was able to focus back on singing, the tune was nearly over. But man was it great watching him duck and weave.
While the Academy had excellent acoustics, the show wasn't quite perfect, as Mozzy Bear occasionally fudged his own lyrics. Additionally, the pitch on the keyboards for "Death of a Disco Dancer" was off, which was distracting but by no means a deal-breaker for the performance. Morrissey was such a charismatic performer that it didn't matter what he played; everything sounded rich and stirring, and I know plenty of people at the venue agreed.
Morrissey puns sadly unused for this article: Moz Scaggs, Moz-ter Squad, Moz-zy Star, and High School Moz-ical. Feel free to post your own awful puns!