Live: Morrissey at the Shrine Auditorium

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Morrissey has a sense of humor about himself and the endless drama and disappointments of life, but he’s serious about it too. At the Shrine Auditorium on Saturday, he was forever bending and swaying to the emotions of the moment, at times outraged, obsessed, bored, hopeful or simply resigned to the limits of human happiness.

During “Ouija Board, Ouija Board,” he stepped back into the shadows, tilting his head in a posture of strength and resignation to a life of romantic disillusion. Of his unreleased new songs, the most immediate was “Action Is My Middle Name,” a typically obsessive plea for love, demanding, “I can’t waste time anymore! . . . La-la-la-la-la!” in a tone blending vulnerability and toughness.

The 75-minute performance in the big concert hall often had the sweaty atmosphere of a much smaller room.

Morrissey, the former frontman of the Smiths, still prefers to rock, and his five-man band performed with real force and sharp edges, layering songs with a fitting intensity of feeling.


The band eased into a swirl of noise and melody as an intro to “All the Lazy Dykes,” as guitarist Jesse Tobias plucked a dramatic pattern on the strings. Their take on Lou Reed’s early post-Velvet Underground song “Satellite of Love” unfurled with emotional muscle and fit the singer like one of his own.

Morrissey is a genuine sex symbol.

In the lobby, fans could pick up a playful black-and-white poster ($10) of the crooner lounging in the tub. There was also a life-sized cardboard cutout of him nude, his privates covered by a vinyl 45 while he fixed his hair, for $100. It was signed (i.e., touched) by Morrissey himself, and was carried off happily after the concert by a bearded fan.

For the Smiths’ “Meat Is Murder,” he projected disturbing surveillance video from factory farms of chickens being beaten and slammed into pens and cows being dragged across the ground to slaughter, as the band erupted with sounds of rage and violence to match, mingling grinding guitars and chaos with drumbeats like gunfire. Morrissey has long since improved on the original 1985 recorded version, turning “Meat Is Murder” into a deeply emotional treatise on the morality of killing animals for food.

As with much of his audience, Morrissey has sought solace in popular culture. Before he was a first-class pop star, Morrissey was a first-class fan (and a former president of the New York Dolls fan club in Britain), which provides him a special bond with his fans and his heroes. On the bass drum was the handsome face of actor Anthony Franciosa in an image from the 1962 Italian film “Senilità.” And for most of the night, the image of English writer Shelagh Delaney was projected behind the band. The playwright of “A Taste of Honey,” a central influence on the singer, died last week, and Morrissey has been paying tribute ever since.

Midway into the night, he referred jokingly to a big football game in the neighborhood by saying something about “the Bears or whoever” (it was actually UCLA versus USC). The game added to an intense traffic and parking gridlock in the area — and might just be a preview of what’s to come with a new downtown stadium right beside Staples Center and the Nokia theaters.

Later, in introducing the rocking “People Are the Same Everywhere,” Morrissey told the crowd, “It’s
interesting to me that Egypt and Syria are leading the world. You may not realize this, but people have the power to change the world.”

One of the most romantic ballads of the night, the Smiths’ “I Know It’s Over,” was performed to the gasps and “Ahhs!” of fans. Morrissey sang it in silhouette, a single spotlight shining behind his head, to the delicate strokes of electric guitar and a heartbreak beat. He wailed sadly, defiantly, “If you’re so very good-looking, why do you sleep alone tonight?”

A young man climbed the stage to briefly embrace Morrissey from behind, stealing a quick kiss before being whisked away, as the band slipped into “Speedway,” where the singer delivered one of the night’s most dramatic readings, his arms dropping helplessly to his sides.

When Morrissey and the band returned for an encore of the Smiths’ “Still Ill,” several more fans took their final chance to rush the stage, hoping for an embrace but often stopped just short of reaching the singer. Sometimes, he reached right back.


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-- Steve Appleford