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Turn the music up: DPAC is Morrissey’s house

by Ryan Snyder

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There were a few questions that needed to be answered leading up to Morrissey’s (www.itsmorrisseysworld.com) performance at the Durham Performing Arts Center on Wednesday, March 11. First and foremost: Would the show go on? Morrissey had canceled six of the first seven shows of his world your due to an unknown illness, including the other North Carolina date in Asheville. Only the Myrtle Beach stop survived and even then, reports of lackluster vocal quality from the famed former Smiths front man sent the expectations of many of his online followers spiraling into the gutter. It’s likely that he bit off more than he would chew with his massive 78-show world tour that stretches from February to July, but that possibility was rendered irrelevant for now by his spectacular return to the Tar Heel State. Since it opened in November 2008, the sparkling new DPAC has become the jewel of downtown Durham’s American Tobacco District with its beautiful glass skin and three levels of comfy, theater-style seating. A sprawling scrim concealed the stage beforehand, displaying an interesting collection of old interviews, performances and music videos by classic new wave and punk acts. The crowd took to their feet the very moment that it lifted to reveal a rather curious d’cor. An enormous shirtless sailor on vinyl substrate flexed over the stage with stogie firmly planted in cheek and the word “Refusal” printed across his chest. That was obviously in reference to Moz’s newest release Years of Refusal, though the figure’s presence could have been homage to the Irish ballad “Morrissey and the Russian Sailor.” The variety of the set list was only matched by that of those in attendance, as aging Smithies and young hipsters alike filled all three tiers of seats. The show opened with one of the Smiths first single’s “The Charming Man,” a brooding number that captures the fierce sexual ambiguity of Morrissey like few others. His voice held up fairly well for the most part, though the noticeable crackle over the line “I’m doing very well” during “Something is Squeezing My Skull” was pure irony. The show was heavy on material from the new album and featured great representation of his solo catalog, though the Smiths’ classics came somewhat sparingly. One of those, and arguably the greatest, came surprisingly early in the set, which is a testament his own unprejudiced view of his work. The crowd appeared to feel a little differently, however, when the celebrated vibrato riff of “How Soon Is Now?” oscillated over the flickering purple and white stage lighting. The song is pure ecstasy to behold; though it’s well documented as to how notoriously difficult it is to perform live. Its sheer emotional impact alone seemed to speak directly to the Id of at least one audience member. One reckless fellow felt compelled to jump onstage just after the brilliant number to take his idol in a powerful embrace before being hauled off by security. The man struggled to face the audience as he was dragged away; throwing his arms up to mimic the flexing seaman behind him. He wasn’t the last unruly stage crasher beholden to their asexual lust for the Irish icon, though Morrissey seemed keenly aware of his effect on fans. “This is the art, and we are art,” Morrissey said with wry self-assurance. “Did you guess?” Much of that art comes not only in the beauty and intricacy of his music, but with the sheer logistical complexity involved in a performance. Bandleader Boz Boorer and former Red Hot Chili Pepper Jesse Tobias both introduced new guitars for nearly every piece and sometimes in the midst of one. Bassist Solomon Walker wasn’t exactly left out of the gear parade, using two different electrics and even an upright bass during “Seasick, Yet Still Docked.” Though humility is not necessarily a part of the package with many artists of Morrissey’s caliber, he acknowledges his explicable lack thereof with a bit of dry British humor. He introduced his backing band as purveyors of virtue, such as drummer Matt Walker who he named to “dignity and resolve.” When he came around to himself, however, his tone was a bit different. “And me,” he paused before letting loose in an ersatz Southern accent. “Well, I just sweep up.” That sort of self deprecation has formed the basis for one of the most unusual, if not incredibly successful, musical careers of the past 30 years. He’s molded himself into the mortal embodiment of sexual frustration, gender confusion and hipster cynicism, though he still fancies himself an object of lust despite a supposed near 30-year bout with celibacy. Morrissey closed out “That’s How People Grow Up” from the new album by whipping off his shirt and tossing it into the crowd. He looked good for his age, though it seemed he was still obliged to gauge audience reaction. “You must have something shocking to say,” he said as he stuck his microphone in the face of a flabbergasted woman in the front. “Now, you be nice.” “No, you be nice” and “We love you, Morrissey” were her choices rather than seizing the moment to actually say something compelling. With former Smith counter-point Johnny Marr playing across town as a part of Modest Mouse, there were numerous ways to be shocking without repercussion in front of the captive audience. Though the chances of Marr rejoining Moz on stage at this point are infinitesimal — they turned down a $5 million offer to reunite at Coachella — there was a surprise in the set. The B-side to the single that broke the Smiths up, “I Keep Mine Hidden,” opened a cascade of some of his more intense solo material. “The World is Full of Crashing Bores,” Life is a Pigsty” and “I’m OK by Myself” closed out an emotional set, though that better describes the fans as they were unrestrained in their attempts to molest Morrissey at this point. After another gent was ejected for jumping onstage just before the encore, the ladies finally decided to get in on the action once he returned. Once jumped squarely into him, wrapped her legs around him and planted a kiss square on his face, which prompted a telling reaction. “I don’t know if this is just another Durham night,” he contemplated. “But this is as close as I get to S-E-X.” The closer “Irish Blood, English Heart” saw several more, less successful intruders only graze their target in exchange for some rather brutal treatment by the nowincensed security personnel. Still, the fans won the war through sheer numbers, which apparently prompted Morrissey to end the set precipitately. The more appropriate “All You Need Is Me” was listed on the official set list as the actual show closer, which begs the question: How should one feel after getting booted from their idol’s show and forcing a premature conclusion? Well, you leave on your own, and you go home, and you cry and you want to die.

Morrissey brought his haunting ’80s style melodies to the Durham Performing Arts Center. (photo by Ryan Snyder)

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