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Morrissey: Live at the Apollo Theater

AreMorrissey’s songs impossibly grand or impossibly small? Even the manhimself doesn’t seem to know for sure. On the second of five sold-outnights at Harlem’s storied Apollo, Moz played tug-of-war with his ownself-importance. And as befits his best material, even winning was akind of losing.

For the first few songs, in a variation onan old Smiths tradition, Manchester’s finest dangled a sprig ofgladiolas from the zipper of his pants. A decade ago, waves of fragile,erotically confused teens would likely have stormed the stage for anibble. But tonight, Apollo security kept them at bay–though in truth,most of the audience seemed a few years beyond such an impulsive phase.Likewise, after pleading a case of the “Harlem mumps,” whatever thosemight be, he warned, “Don’t stand too close, unless you want to catchwhat I have.” In different times, that would have been a come-on.

Morrissey once smoldered deliciously–“Jack the Ripper”opens with “Oh, you look so tired, mouth slack and wide…your face isas mean as your life has been.” Depression and desire commingledeasily. The same could be said of his stage presence, a kind ofcontrolled flamboyance that allured by repelling. With age, though, hisgestures have grown more blunt. The grandiloquent jerking of themicrophone cord, the genteel appraisals of his manicured hand, thecollapse on bended knee after a mildly stiff rendition of “Hairdresseron Fire”–it’s all taken a turn toward Vegas revue.

The new songs from You Are the Quarry, Mozzer’s firstrelevant solo album in a decade, are more muscular than his Smithsmaterial, but they sometimes sacrifice intimacy for pomp. “The First ofthe Gang to Die” and “Irish Blood, English Heart”–which opened andclosed his set, respectively–were majestic, as were “The World Is Fullof Crashing Bores” and a cover of the melancholy “No One Can Hold aCandle to You,” by Raymonde, a nebulously Smiths-connected Manchesterband. But “All the Lazy Dykes” fizzled, and “I Like You” and “I’m NotSorry” replaced winking elisions with literal pleas. Older songs faredslightly better. “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” was moreelegiac than ever, but the glam ballad “I Know It’s Gonna HappenSomeday” limped along, showing its age.

He closed with a single-song encore: “Hand in Glove,” thefirst Smiths single and still one of the best. But really, the man madehis clearest statement when the house lights were raised and theApollo’s speakers blasted Ol’ Blue Eyes’ “My Way.” The rules ofengagement were, as always, never in question. Backstage, the ol’ teasewas probably having a good laugh, if he hadn’t already left thebuilding.