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Morrissey Triumphs at Staples Center Show, in Music Not Meat

Morrissey Staples Center Beyonce Vegetarian McDonald's

“I never ever watch the news because I’m depressed enough,” Morrissey said, then paused in front of a sold-out crowd at Los Angeles’ Staples Center arena on Friday night. “But I was very sad to hear that the rhino is nearly extinct. And it’s not because of global warming or a shrinking habitat. It’s because of Beyoncé’s handbags. God bless the rhino.”

What came next was a blast of dark clanging and foul noise as Moz and his instrumental hit-men performed the Smiths’ 1984 vegetarian war cry, “Meat Is Murder.” Above, awful footage of abuses at factory farms was projected into a huge screen. The band ramped up the skronk for the most dramatic images and the result was terribly effective. Before the song ended, Morrissey squeezed in another jab: “KFC is murder”

Bey and the Colonel weren’t surprising targets of the Englishman’s ire, but they seemed like the wrong ones. For the previous 10 days, Moz had been in a public standoff with Staples over the concert’s menu. He bragged that it’d be 100 percent veggie. The venue countered that while they’d expanded their vegetarian options, fans could still find meat to munch. Moz announced that they were wrong. They announced that he was wrong. And, as it turns out, he was wrong.

While the first and third floors were indeed meatless — bratwurst and carne asada replaced by ample amounts of candy-coated popcorn and butter-soaked pretzels — the harder-to-reach second floor was flush with flesh. Beef, pork, chicken, and turkey were arranged every which way: a la carte, between bread, sprinkled atop lettuce. Rather impressively, the onsite McDonald’s locations remained shuttered for the entire show.

But Morrissey stayed uncharacteristically silent on the matter while onstage. Perhaps his discretion was part of the concert’s contract, next to the bit about having Patrick “McDreamy” Dempsey inexplicably announce his arrival at the start of the set. (Because, yes, that happened.) Instead, Moz mostly used his time between songs to wallow in self-loathing.

At one point, he handed the microphone to his fans. A breathless boy up front turned the attention back to his idol by asking Moz, “How are you?” And Morrissey just frowned and shrugged — a bodily “meh” was the best he could muster. The man has been an emotional surrogate to so many for so long that he’s simply bored of martyrdom.

But that didn’t stop Moz from turning his would-be PETA party into an excellent pity party. He delivered on the Smiths’ classics “How Soon Is Now,” “Unloveable,” and “Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want.” He covered Franki Valli’s “To Give (The Reason I Love).” He played solo favorites like “Everyday Is Like Sunday” and “The First of the Gang to Die.”

When the songs called for it, Morrissey pranced like a toreador or balled his body up in pain. During “Let Me Kiss You” he ripped his shirt off and threw it into the crowd. In context, all of Moz’s melodrama was pitch perfect, making each lyric about hope deferred resonate all the better — making the musical experience fantastic. Which is one of the three things his fans actually came for. The others were neither hummus nor hot dogs, but beer and merch.