"I'm a man, I can take it," Morrissey said on Saturday after being knocked to the ground by an overzealous fan during his show at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. Looking a bit more grey than his last appearance in Denver seven years ago, Morrissey was genial if a bit sluggish this time around -- possibly due to the health problems that cancelled his last two visits to Colorado. Still, his congregation of pentecostal devotees (Mozicostals?) provided all the kinetic energy needed to keep the night from becoming just another crank of the Greatest Hits assembly line.
It's difficult to think of another rock icon whose aged as gracefully as Morrissey. David Bowie may have a better smile and Sting a better midsection (Morrissey bypassed the ritual of undressing and throwing his shirt into the audience this time), but in terms of contemporary relevance, what other musicians of his era are making music today that anyone is listening to?
Only three of the sixteen songs Morrissey sang in Denver were Smiths songs. The rest came from his solo career, and a majority of those were on albums from the last ten years. Can you imagine a U2 concert that primarily features material from 2004 onward?
Despite us being denied the Morrissey of 2007, who whipped his belt like a dominatrix on the stage to "The Queen Is Dead," we were still treated to a man whose voice has only grown strong and powerful with age, like the weathered mitts of an old farmhand. Tears were shed in the crowd; people swayed with eyes closed and arms raised. It was virtually interchangeable with a Billy Graham Crusade audience, only this messiah was before us in flesh and blood. "You're just like me," he sang while touching their hands during "Yes, I am Blind." And speaking of flesh and blood, Morrissey's legendary ardor reached its zenith during his delivery of "Meat Is Murder." While it's been decades since he's worn gladiolus in his back pocket and years since he has disrobed on stage, Morrissey has continued the infamous tradition of projecting smuggled footage of factory farms and slaughter houses onto a screen behind him during "Meat is Murder."
"It's death for no reason, and death for no reason is muuuuuuuurder," he groaned atop an ominously psychedelic guitar, bathed in a dark crimson light as the images of convulsing heifers, boiled alive chickens, suffocating piglets and a baby calf's head being crushed by a farmer's sledgehammer fill the Ellie Caulkins stage. "Do you know how animals die? Kitchen aromas aren't very homely... it's sizzling blood and the unholy stench of MUUUUUUURDER."
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Typically when an aging performer visits Denver he or she will inevitably comment on the altitude, the pot or their afternoon drinking craft beer at some crowd-pleasing bar. Morrissey took the opportunity to charge the Denver Zoo with kidnapping "four thousand trapped, unhappy, suicidal animals," and referred to Greeley as "the Murder Capitol of the Colorado," due to its slaughterhouses. There's no "Denver is the rockingest city in the world!" with this guy.
The crowd loved him for these civic jabs, and he playfully continued with "I have to confess, I have no idea who Ellie Caulkins is. I assume she was on Gilligan's Island or something. Do you know?" He lowered the mic into the crowd. Nobody knew. "But she has an opera house named after her, in this city, so somebody must know who she is. Unless of course, like most very wealthy people, they buy their own opera house." When he was tackled by the hysterical ticket-holder during "One Day Goodbye Will Be Farewell," a gasping audience sucked all of the air out of the room. After all, exactly the same incident (during the exact same song) a week earlier in San Jose brought his show to an early end. Getting up, Morrissey asked bass player Jesse Tobias "what should we do, Jesse?" Tobias began to play the intro to the song for the second time, later walking over to the kid in the crowd once the song was over, giving the kid an assault of cursing and finger pointing with a frightening intensity.
There's no getting around it: Morrissey is old. The Brando-like grace he once exuded on Top of the Pops and the maniacal urgency of the Rank live album are now just a flickering light inside the body of a man who will turn 55 on Thursday. But Morrissey can still write a song worthy of his canon (as we heard in the many tunes off his forthcoming album World Peace Is None Of Your Business), and can sing it with as much playfulness, grace and power as he did when fronting The Smiths - if not more.
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