To answer the burning question about Morrissey’s sold-out Friday night show at Staples Center: Yes, there was meat for sale. You had to skulk around to an upper deck concourse to find it – if there had to be animal food there, the former Smiths frontman and vegetarian activist wasn’t going to make it easy. The sheepish fans asking security guards for directions to the grill looked like they had slipped into an AA meeting to inquire about a good dive bar nearby.
For any fellow vegans or old Morrissey hands, this was kind of a bummer. We like to imagine a world where Moz’s legion of kohl-eyed romantics can push back the tides with their devotion, or even make America’s busiest arena go all-vegetarian for the night (early reports suggested that on Friday Staples would be meatless for the first time, though Staples reps later denied it).
But then again, what would Morrissey be without the sense that the world’s out to ruin him? At Friday’s show, he proved the potency of his lifelong miserablist’s project. Morrissey, one of England’s most iconic rock singers, uses the moves of the classic crooners to wring triumph from rejection and frustration - be it from another mercurial lover, or from the “Classic Cheeseburger” of rumor in the upstairs lobby.
Between the froofraw about the Staples menu and Morrissey’s feud with Jimmy Kimmel (Moz canceled an appearance on Kimmel’s TV show when he was paired with the cast of the hunting program “Duck Dynasty”), Moz’s regal cantankerousness threatened to overshadow the actual concert.
But within minutes of taking the Staples stage, he asserted why he’s been the sad-sack’s Sinatra for three decades.
Middle age and L.A. sunshine has been kind to Morrissey. A bit of a barrel chest and grey at the temples lent a seasoned-rake’s touch to songs like “Action is My Middle Name” and “Irish Blood, English Heart” (where he lambasted Oliver Cromwell with historical verve).
The intervening years haven’t buffed off angry early-solo-career tunes like “November Spawned a Monster.” But Moz’s self-aware humor has aged into cask-strength power on recent albums, and when he played 2009’s “I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris,” he was absolutely in on the ironies of singing “Nobody wants my love, nobody needs my love” to a sold-out arena (just ask the kid who later bum-rushed the stage just to hug him).
But of course, barring a Smiths reunion (which lately seems about as likely as Moz enjoying one of those “Classic Cheeseburgers” for himself), his solo shows are as close as we’ll get to that canon of exaltedly wan Manchester rock.
His Smiths tunes were reminders of just how radical that band was in the ‘80s – and remains today. The Smiths were anti-Thatcher when England’s Conservatives seemed unbeatable; animal advocates in an industrial city with no patience for hippies; punks who used acoustic guitars and chorus effects to make music both dreamy and urgent. “How Soon is Now?” and “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” remain unimpeachable; even the tough-to-watch “Meat Is Murder” interlude (where the band projects footage of factory-farm slaughterhouses) has become a industrial-squall breakdown of lore.
He saved his real weepers for the end, ripping his shirt off at the coda of “Let Me Kiss You,” and returning to close out with the Smiths staple “The Boy With the Thorn in His Side.” He knows the contract that he has with his crowd, which still fills basketball arenas to hear him lament how alone he is in the world.
Not even Moz could rid Staples of meat entirely. But if that made him feel thwarted by the universe, there was no better place to find company than at an excellent Morrissey show.
The most romantic gesture of the evening, though, came earlier in the night when opener Patti Smith dedicated her classic “Because The Night” to her deceased husband Fred “Sonic” Smith. Her group’s set of rousing proto-punk had a sweetness and optimism that reasserted how her New York noise-poet peers were out to re-make the world. Friday night really did belong to lovers.