Let's just get that out of the way. When Morrissey performed at the Sunshine Theater last year, at the ripe old age of 50, he didn't hand the people in the crowd a wilted bouquet of gladiolas. He gave them their money's worth. And then some.
Morrissey was robust and spry from the first note of "This Charming Man," which he used to open the night. Seeing him live, I finally got that Morrissey's most ingenious caper has been convincing us that he's a private, de-sexed, stone-sober Englishman—when he's anything but. He made no secret of savoring every moment on stage. Between gorgeous, lilting melodies, he was growling and yelping and quipping the words. He used his barrel-chested falsetto to poke the Serious and Heartbroken Tragic Hero in the ribs.
Morrissey's voice, still limber as Baryshnikov's backbend, has matured into well-oiled brass. It was carried even further by his band's aggressive, saw-toothed vintage tone, led by the supernaturally tight and predatory guitar playing of Boz Boorer (famously of The Polecats). On this night the band wore chocolate dress shirts rolled to the bicep and tucked in at the waste, powder-blue slacks and brown bow ties. They looked like a street gang with soda jerk day jobs; part Manchester Teddy Boy, part George McFly.
No less than a four-foot gong, offset by a bruised bass drum the size of a small moon, occupied the space immediately behind the drummer. With the large "Refusal" banner (the name of the tour) in a drab, creamy brown, the back of the stage resembled a Japanese Shinto altar in an old WWII movie. Morrissey positively popped in the foreground.
The barn-burner of that night, and the year, was "How Soon Is Now?" The song enveloped the room so completely, I felt like Jonah sitting in the warm, red belly of the whale. He also did "Girlfriend in a Coma," a surprising and wonderful "Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others" and "Ask," along with a whole brace of solo material. And he did it for an hour and a half, straight. (Although he disappeared backstage a few times to peel off soaking-wet layers of clothing for fresh, tailored button-ups. "I've changed my shirt to keep you interested," he demurred after the third quick-change.)
So, yes. Seeing Morrissey live was worth every penny of $45. But you know what? This weekend, you can get away with a very reasonable facsimile for free.
That's because Saturday, May 22, is his birthday. And in his honor (or honour, if you prefer the British), the Alibi is throwing him a dance party at Burt's Tiki Lounge (313 Gold SW) with nothing but The Smiths, Morrissey and related items on the turntable. The Unhappy Birthday Party is the brainchild of Music Editor, and fellow Moz worshipper, Jessica Cassyle Carr. The line at 2008's maiden voyage with DJ Eve (who will be visiting from Chicago this year) not only stretched down the street, but wrapped around the block. That was at 10:30 p.m., when I foolishly showed up a half-hour late. I'll never make that mistake again.