Last Night: Morrissey at the Fox Theater, Pomona

Last Night: Morrissey, Doll N the Kicks at the Fox Theater, Pomona; December 7, 2009.

Better Than: Arguably: Friday's Las Vegas show, which was cut short without an encore. Unarguably: Saturday's Indio show, which didn't happen.

The 21st Century Breathing Down My Neck: Moz, um, “whingeing” that
“the modern world of music is so terrible” before “The World is Full of Crashing Bores.”

“I don't deserve your love, but I have it, and I'm happy, so thank you.”

That's what Morrissey told the sold-out Fox Theater crowd right before delivering encore number “First of the Gang to Die,” and given the predictably warm response, who wouldn't believe him? Let's stow away the “Morrissey? Happy?” jokes, because clearly he's still unable to express such feelings without first making a typically self-aware, self-deprecating statement, and also because for one night in downtown Pomona, he really did seem rather pleased.

Sure, he called himself “ill, angry, and as ugly as sin,” and sounded like a grumpy old man while complaining about modern music. But he also smiled, joked, and seemed to legitimately enjoy being back performing in Southern California. Refreshing, really, given his last time in the area: this year's Coachella, where he walked off stage due to the smell of “burning animal flesh.” (He finished the set, with plenty more complaints about not only the smell, but also the sound.)

This past weekend he ended a Las Vegas gig before the encore, last month he famously scrapped a Liverpool show two songs in after being beaned with a beer bottle, two weeks before that he collapsed on stage after the opening number. So we got a happy, healthy Moz–a rare occurrence these days. Feel privileged!

The singer (whoops, sorry, “alt-rock icon”!) maintained this favorable disposition throughout the hour and 15 minute set, sounding as good on the 25-year-old Smiths song “This Charming Man” as he did on recent Years of Refusal tracks “Black Cloud” and “When Last I Spoke to Carol.” The current band, including Morrissey mainstay Boz Boorer and American guitarist Jesse Tobias, bring enough vitality to make the very old feel new again (“How Soon Is Now,” as played-out as the cheesiest of '80s anthems, manages to reclaim what made it so compelling in the first place) and enough musical prowess to make the so-so new material (late-career b-sides like “Because of My Poor Education”) sound pretty good.

Morrissey, dressed rather casually in baggy, low-slung jeans and a blue floral-print shirt that lasted nearly the entire show before being tossed into the crowd, asked
“am I really in Pomona?” in mock disbelief and sarcastically asked if anyone was “having a terrible time.” Usual Morrissey fare, yes, but still charming. Even the plug for recently released b-sides compilation Swords was charming, though that record's existence is to blame for so many lesser-known tracks like “Teenage Dad on His Estate” and the goofy “Don't Make Fun of Daddy's Voice” creeping into the set list. No other act that has been around as long–or has as many hits as Morrissey–could get away with eschewing classics like “Suedehead,” “The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get” and “Everyday Is Like Sunday” in favor of five-year-old b-sides of singles that weren't all that popular in the first place. Most artists probably wouldn't even consider such a bold move.

Not that there weren't recognizable songs. For those who subscribe to “I only care about the Smiths, Morrissey's solo stuff is lame!” (get over it), there were six Smiths tracks; about a third of the set. Live staple “The Loop” is always a highlight, featuring Moz getting in on the fun with a tambourine, which was sandwiched between Smiths favorites “Cemetry Gates” and “Ask.” It was the set's most memorable section.

The encore song was obvious before the show even started: “First of the Gang to Die,” off his 2004 comeback album You Are the Quarry, and essentially a paean to both his massive, much-publicized Latino fanbase and his former home of Los Angeles. The fact that it's a recent song, and not “How Soon is Now?” is important–the whole show was a reminder that Morrissey absolutely still retains all the qualities that made him so influential in the first place. If he feels like it.

Critic's Notebook:

Personal Bias: I'm pretty sure I came out of the womb singing “Hand in Glove.” The single came out a month before I was born, so it's at least possible.

Random Detail: Doll N the Kicks, a Siouxsie and the Banshees-esque UK group in the unenviable position of opening this show, headline at the Whisky A Go Go next Monday.

By the Way: Morrissey is scheduled to play San Diego tonight, LA on Thursday, and Ventura on Friday. “Scheduled.”

Morrissey set list:
“This Charming Man”
“Black Cloud”
“When Last I Spoke to Carol”
“How Soon is Now?”
“I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris”
“Is It Really So Strange?”
“One Day Goodbye Will be Farewell”
“Death at One's Elbow”
“Teenage Dad On His Estate”
“Because of My Poor Education”
“The World is Full of Crashing Bores”
“Why Don't You Find Out For Yourself?”
“Cemetry Gates”
“The Loop”
“Don't Make Fun of Daddy's Voice”
“I'm OK By Myself”

“First of the Gang to Die”

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