"Ladies and gentleman, would you please pardon...my happiness," Morrissey told the adoring crowd last night at the first of two sold-out shows at Terminal 5 in Manhattan. It was a seemingly atypical sentiment coming from the undisputed king of maudlin (but hilarious) gloom—but Morrissey knows his audience well, and with every unbuttoning of his shirt, every hand he held, and especially with every word of "Still Ill," the crowd pressed forward just for a chance to be closer to him. As he sang just a few years ago: "You hiss and groan and you constantly moan/But you don't ever go away/And that's because/All you need is me."
Anyone who was at the show to see lots of The Smiths classics was in for a disappointment—Morrissey's solo career has now gone on for more than 20 years, with way more albums and songs than The Smiths ever put out. There were only three Smiths tunes in the setlist, although they were all obvious highlights: set opener "Shoplifters Of The World Unite," which caused the crowd to immediately rush in toward the stage; the long and visceral anti-meat anthem "Meat Is Murder;" and of course "Still Ill," during which several people climbed onto the stage for a chance to hug the man. You can see him performing that one a couple days ago at Radio City Music Hall below.
Morrissey's backing band lived up to the word printed on their identical t-shirts: "Bash." They made particularly good work of the sometimes maligned (but bouncy!) "Ouija Board, Ouija Board," ripped through newer song "People Are The Same Everywhere," and provided an appropriately moody bed to Frankie Valli cover song "To Live." Sure, they're not the most engaging group Morrissey has ever played with, but they look the part, and let the focus land where it always should: on the gesticulations, facial expressions, and quivering voice of Morrissey. Nothing should get in the way of his "Let Me Kiss You" striptease.
Morrissey's voice was strong as ever, breathing new life into the under-appreciated and dense "Maladjusted" and wrapping itself around the tongue-in-cheek "You're The One For Me, Fatty." Other highlights included the rarity "Fantastic Bird," the crowd-pleaser "You Have Killed Me," and the pair of songs from his greatest solo album, Vauxhall and I (any Smiths fans who hasn't heard it needs to do so right now), "Speedway" and "Spring-Heeled Jim." And of course, there was no topping a singalong on "Everyday Is Like Sunday," which makes Armageddon sound as welcome as any other lazy weekend activity.