From the promoters to the legions of faithful, gladiola-bearing
fans, no one was quite sure why Morrissey was playing his only U.S.
show this fall at a sold-out Aragon Ballroom on Tuesday night.
Playing up his reputation as an often reclusive and set-upon cult
hero -- "So, you see, rumors of my death have been quite
exaggerated," he said at the start of the show -- 47-year-old Steven
Patrick Morrissey did a handful of dates in Texas and Oklahoma last
March when he spoke at the South by Southwest Music Festival. But
there has been no proper American tour in support of his eighth solo
album, "Ringleader of the Tormentors" -- just this surprising visit
One rumor held that the brief defection of his bass player
derailed other U.S. gigs until next spring. Another had it that he
simply had a layover at O'Hare while en route from several arena
shows in Mexico last week to some upcoming gigs in Greece. Or maybe
it was just the unique charm of the Aragon that drew him.
"It's been many, many years since I first played this fabulous
venue," the singer said midway through a 90-minute set that was
typically emotional in its musical content and wry and sardonic in
its stage patter. "It's my pleasure to say they finally have some
decent toilet paper, so things are definitely looking up!"
Whatever brought him here, Morrissey was received with the usual
rapturous devotion by his Windy City acolytes as he took to a
Spartan stage adorned only with a backdrop bearing a giant image of
feminist intellectual Gertrude Stein. And as he fronted his
impressively tight, massive-sounding and nattily dressed six-piece
band, he never sounded in better voice.
Released last April, "Ringleader of the Tormentors" was a
disappointingly lackluster effort, and the new songs didn't gain
anything in concert. Indeed, the formerly celibate Moz's
uncharacteristically randy but joyless "Dear God Please Help Me"
("I've got explosive kegs between my legs") and the ultra-mopey
self-parody "Life Is A Pigsty" were even more plodding and sullen
onstage than on album.
Thankfully, those low points were far outnumbered by the
evening's highs, among them the jaunty opener "Panic"; a wrenching
"Disappointed"; a lovely version of the "Viva Hate" nugget "I've
Changed My Plea to Guilty"; a splendidly swirling and psychedelic "I
Will See You in Far-off Places" and a rollicking romp through "Irish
Blood, English Heart."
The American press isn't smart enough to write about him, the
ever-misunderstood artiste complained at one point. But that's not
fair: We were just waiting for you to finally pay us a visit, Moz.
Specially chosen by the headliner to open all of his recent
overseas shows, Kristeen Young is a St. Louis singer, songwriter,
keyboardist and vocalist now based in New York. With powerful
accompaniment from drummer Baby Jeff White, her personality filled
the cavernous and unforgiving space of the Aragon, and the duo came
on like an unrelenting version of the Gang of Four fronted by Kate
Bush, with a hint of Siouxsie and the Banshees.