To paraphrase Leonardo DiCaprio in “Django Unchained,” when Morrissey announced that he would be touring North America in 2013, he had my curiosity. But when he announced that he’d be stopping in the broken down gas station of Pennsylvania that is my semi-hometown of Reading, he had my attention.
Like most angsty pale kids, I loved The Smiths from the first moment I heard them and gradually transitioned into enjoying Morrissey’s solo work as well. As someone who has achieved a “living legend” tag, whether it is for his music or outspoken views on nearly everything, I had assumed that I would never get a chance to see the guy. But as I walked through the doors of the Sovereign Performing Arts Center, the building where I had witnessed my first concert – Get the Led Out, a totally convincing Led Zeppelin tribute band – the reality of the situation became more real with every step. Accompanying me on my journey was my good friend and former roommate Zach, who insisted that by night’s end he would be in Morrissey’s arms, if only for a few brief seconds.
I laughed off the idea, but not before laughing again at the sight of an official Morrissey pillowcase at the merch stand, complete with a stenciling of Moz’ face and the words, “Last night I dreamt somebody loved me” on it. I promptly bought it for Zach.
Our seats were not far from the stage, and, acoustically, it’s hard to get a bad seat at the Sovereign building. After a killer opening of the old Smiths chestnut “Shoplifters of the World Unite,” Morrissey mentioned from the stage that the large open space between the people standing in the front and the people seated a few yards behind them, separated by guards and bouncers, was annoying him. Naturally, by the time the next song had started, security relented and people from all over the venue rushed to the edge of the stage to witness Morrissey up close.
You have not felt true joy until you’ve seen a large theater full of middle-aged white people scream-singing “Still Ill” like it was 1984. While it was true that the audience definitely skewed toward older people, the range of people that bum rushed the stage truly bridged a generational gap.
One of the things I found out after the show was that excessive stage-rushing – and the consequent stage-hugging – is not only extremely common at Morrissey shows, but it’s also bizarrely tolerated, albeit with a wink. Along with the regular two guards from the theater, Morrissey had a guy on each side of the stage, both with matching black shirts imprinted with “MOZ” written in big letters. Their job was to throw off stage-rushers. As enigmatic of a performer as Morrissey is at 53 years old, my attention was on his guards almost as much. Both men were in attack position throughout the entire set, making eye contact with potential hooligans before they could act. Some were dissuaded, others were not.
It began slowly, with two teenagers in quick succession sneaking hugs, lifting their arms into a victory stance and then being shooed off the stage. The best hug-thief of the night was also probably the youngest person in attendance. Morrissey first interacted with the nine-year-old during his usual “impromptu” mid-show Q&A with the people in the very front. This exchange then followed:
Moz: How are you doing?
9-year-old: Not good!
M: Why’s that?
M: Do you have school tomorrow? [The show was on a Saturday night.] NYO: No, on Monday.
M: Well then you’ll be fine.
The duo met again during the encore of “How Soon Is Now?” As the Moz had his back turned to the audience, the kid climbed on to the stage and jumped on Morrissey’s back, causing Morrissey to begin swinging in a circle to get the boy off and singing all the while. When the cadence was done, the boy let go and Morrissey gave him a side hug and smiled, saying, “My boy! My boy!” And if I wasn‘t already standing with my mouth open like a giraffe, the boy’s father jumped on stage, giving both his son and Morrissey a hug. Then, the father and son team both departed from the stage. Maybe it was just because I had “How Soon Is Now?” being played before me, or maybe it was the novelty of seeing Morrissey in Reading of all places, but it was one of the most genuinely bizarre things I had ever seen on stage – and I’ve seen Bob Dylan pretend to remember his own songs.
The set itself was a surprisingly good mix of the songs that make up Morrissey’s three-decade songbook. Whether he focused on short songs or was merely trying to get out sooner, every song seemed to reach its end quickly, with the clear exception of “Meat is Murder.” Set to a backdrop of farm animals being wrangled up to be slaughtered, the already-six minute song seemed to stretch on for hours and made nearly every meat eater in the theater look down at his or her shoes. By show’s end, 10 people had rushed the stage, four stage guards looked pissed and one shirt had been thrown into the crowd and promptly replaced by Morrissey. He’s still got it.
Kevin Stairiker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.