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Will Morrissey make it to Pittsburgh this time?
Thursday, March 12, 2009

To draw a rather unlikely comparison between four metal gods and one of rock's great male divas, having a ticket for a Morrissey concert in Pittsburgh the past two decades was a lot like having a Led Zeppelin ticket back in the day.

They weren't worth the paper they were printed on.

Zeppelin, of course, had downright tragic reasons for not showing. In 1977, Robert Plant's son died during the tour, and then three years later, drummer John Bonham drank himself to death after tickets went on sale. We never saw Led Zeppelin again.

Morrissey is another story. The brilliant singer-songwriter and even more brilliant narcissist, beloved and coddled by his cult following, has canceled the past two times as well. For lesser reasons. While he was actually in town.

Now, he's scheduled to perform Tuesday night at Carnegie Music Hall, but his tour is already a non-starter. First he canceled the first four dates due to "illness." Morrissey and Florida -- doesn't sound like a match anyway.

Then, he blogged about his reception in Atlanta:

"I have survived the interrogation of Atlanta's Immigration officials and Myrtle Beach shall have me tonite (Friday), and the world from then onwards ... if the world can take it. One of the many penalties of being human is that tours often take a military push to start, well, all of our answers will be in our songs tonite. The bloodbath starts at 7:30. Life is testing you out. Be ready for anything."

Myrtle Beach did get Morrissey Friday night, but not all of him. Reports from fans at www.morrissey-solo.com indicated that he started strong but "seemed to become more and more out of it as the night went on," dropping lyrics, losing energy, etc. The set was cut short.

He then canceled Saturday in Atlanta and Monday in Asheville, N.C. Before he makes it here Tuesday, he has to survive Washington, D.C., on Saturday and New Jersey Monday, then trek across the state to Pittsburgh. Whether he makes it is anyone's guess.

We have germs

On the Kill Uncle tour in 1991, fans learned as they were walking up to the I.C. Light Amphitheatre at Station Square in the early July evening that the show was off.

Why?

"Nobody still knows why," says Rich Engler, of the former DiCesare-Engler Productions. "We were really excited to get him at I.C. Light. The show sold out in advance. The day of the show comes, the crowd was all lined up. There was a brief thundershower around 5:30 that lasted till about 6. Then, the weather was clear. We cleaned off any dampness around the stage, and he chose not to go on."

Some reports have The Moz not favoring the venue's proximity to the train tracks.

"I don't think anyone liked the train tracks," Engler says, laughing. "I don't remember any act coming up and saying, 'Rich, I like these tracks.' "

Nine years later, on Feb. 17, 2000, Morrissey was scheduled at another of our prized venues (note the sarcasm), the Palumbo Center, and postponed due to a migraine and back spasms. (Engler says Morrissey also may have been suffering from the fact that the show was not sold out, but selling well, and some of the expenses from the previous show were being rolled into his costs.)

Two days later, in Boston, he said, "We got lots of germs from Pittsburgh, and we're going to breathe them all over you ... Pittsburgh is that kind of place ... very generous with germs ..." True perhaps, but they don't cause migraines and back spasms.

Local fans were asked to hold on to their tickets, pending a new date. Hopefully, they cashed them back in.

It could very well be that Morrissey just doesn't like it here (even though our climate may resemble what he experienced as a kid in Manchester, England). There was, after all, that dagger he threw at us three years ago in the song "On the Streets I Ran," where he petitions God to take "the stillborn, newborn, the infirm, take anyone, take people from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, just spare me!"

He could have said "Cleveland, Ohio" or "Buffalo, New York" or "Phoenix, Arizona," but he didn't. Something about our germs.

With the Smiths

Maybe the problems all started on Aug. 12, 1986, at the Fulton Theater.

It was the one time this charming man actually performed in Pittsburgh.

It also was the first and only appearance here by his legendary band, The Smiths, then five shows into its second tour of the States. The quartet, which released its self-titled debut in 1984, had emerged on the scene, like R.E.M., heralding a renaissance of "the guitar band," an alternative to the synth-pop that had saturated the mainstream in the wake of punk's demise.

With the release of a third album and "The Queen Is Dead" tour, The Smiths had gone beyond appealing to just the scenesters and music geeks who shopped at Jim's Records and were embraced by a young teen audience screaming for Morrissey and eventually swarming him on stage.

The Post-Gazette review noted that Morrissey -- "unsmiling" and "distant" -- "came with the message that the queen is dead, the self is alive, celibacy is in, meat is murder and, implicitly, that rock 'n' roll can carry messages and still be noticed."

In the late Pittsburgh Press, the reviewer made a comparison, of all things, to the Marshall Tucker Band (in that there was no Marshall Tucker and no one named Smith) and mocked the Smiths' pro-veggie message, then went on to make a final comparison to U2, who had also played the Fulton, saying, "no one knows if the Smiths ever will draw more than 16,000 fans to the arena as U2 did a year ago in April, but they certainly deserve a return date."

As it turned out, the Smiths' last U.S. date -- unbeknownst to anyone at the time -- was a month later in St. Petersburg, Fla., followed by a final UK tour in October and a one-off benefit show in December in which the band appeared to be in good spirits. Prophetically, the final line of that show came from the band's first single, "Hand in Glove," with Morrissey wailing, "I'll probably never see you again."

By the time the band released "Strangeways, Here We Come" in September 1987, it had broken up, largely because of tensions between Morrissey and jangly guitar ace Johnny Marr, who proved to be irreplaceable. (After a stint with Modest Mouse, Marr is now a member of the British band The Cribs.)

Morrissey got right back in the game just a year later, in 1988, with his first solo album, "Viva Hate," and, while his solo material has never eclipsed the Smiths, he has amassed a pretty strong set of material for a live set, including faves such as "The Last of the Famous International Playboys," "Everyday Is Like Sunday," "Suedehead" and "First of the Gang to Die." He occasionally treats fans to a Smiths song such as "Ask" or "How Soon Is Now."

He seemed to go dry after 1997's "Maladjusted" but then surged back with guns blazing, as the cover depicted, in 2004 with "You Are the Quarry," a politically charged record that rocked in epic fashion. That resurgence continued with the Tony Visconti-produced "Ringleader of the Tormentors" (2006) and the new one, "Years of Refusal," one of his most hard-rocking, stripped-down, emotion-baring records.

Morrissey, who turns 50 in May, has offered that there may be only about five years of this left (and some fans are hastily calling for retirement now because of the start of this tour). He told XFM, "I assume most people lose it because they become satisfied and they achieve everything they ever set out to achieve. More to the point, they become personally satisfied and that they're quite happy and it doesn't matter anymore.

"It's very interesting that it's very hard to think of anybody who ages and still manages to mean anything."

Wait. Did Morrissey say "satisfied" ... "happy"?

This is one career that doesn't seem destined to end due to a unexpected outbreak of happiness and satisfaction.

Scott Mervis can be reached at smervis@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2576.
First published on March 12, 2009 at 12:00 am


Read more:
http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/09071/954750-42.stm#ixzz1i60VrI4e

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