at the New York University at Buffalo Center for the Arts
March 19th, 2009
By John Hastings
I was 16 years old when I started getting into The Smiths. I was way behind the curve, seeing as how Morrissey, Marr, and Co. had all parted ways years earlier, and the mysterious frontman was already several albums into a solo career. But better late than never, I guess. I’ve fallen in love with everything Morrissey’s touched over the years but, until a few weeks ago, had never seen him live. He has a moral objection to the seal-hunting that occurs on Canada’s east coast and so has refused to play in the great white north for the past several years. Somehow he doesn’t object to playing in the United States, the logic of which boggles my mind, but that’s for another article.
When I found out that Moz would be playing Buffalo upon the release of his newest album Years of Refusal, I jumped online and purchased tickets, then got the disc when it came out. Neither disappointed. I rocked Years of Refusal at every opportunity during the weeks leading up to the show, and convinced my wife and two friends to take a day off so we could head across the border in a leisurely fashion.
On the day of the show, we visited a vineyard in Niagara, perused a few antique shops, and gambled at the casino, then crossed the border. Finding pre-show sustenance turned out to be harder than I’d imagined. The concert was held at the beautiful New York University at Buffalo Center for the Arts, which was a dream venue to see someone like Morrissey perform, but there’s very little surrounding the university. In search of a restaurant that wasn’t fast food, we pulled into a gas station; the lady behind the counter wasn’t helpful enough to point us one kilometre down the road to the sports bar we eventually found. (The sports bar had a great variety of beer, many Canadian brands — and they’d won “Best Wings in Buffalo” with their “Crown Royal and BBQ sauce.” The food was the greasiest thing I’ve ever eaten and caused one of my friends to actually vomit in the washroom. The next time I head to Amherst, New York I’ll definitely pack my own dinner.)
Morrissey was flat-out amazing. He opened with the classic “This Charming Man,” the rendition decidedly modern, with guitarist Boz Boorer adding sludge and grind to the song. In terms of other Smiths content, there was a decent version of “How Soon Is Now” and, one of my personal favourites, “Ask.”
By far the highlight of the show was “The Death of a Disco Dancer.” I actually welled up at Morrissey’s low croon, and was so moved by his performance that I’ll say that it has to rank in the top three live show moments for me. Passionate and beautiful, the entire show was riveting and sad, heart-warming and exciting: a perfect blend of the dark, brooding, fervent, and loving style Morrissey so adeptly brings to all of his music. The majority of the show was drawn from his solo discs, mostly from Years of Refusal. The new material was captivating, though I was disappointed not to hear “Mother Lay Softly On the Riverbed,” one of my favourites from the new album. “I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris” was true to the album version yet still engaging, and Moz really showcased his register on “Something is Squeezing My Skull,” despite having cancelled a number of shows early in the tour due to sickness. “Irish Blood, English Heart” seemed a crowd favourite, and the encore, “First of the Gang to Die,” was a great way to end the show.
Before leaving, my wife — in the great way of someone who loves you — pushed her way to the front of a line and purchased me a signed vinyl version of Years of Refusal, one of only 20 being sold after the show. I plan on having it framed, along with ticket stubs and a couple of great photos we took that day. It was an amazing show, and the highlight of my year so far. I may have been “16, clumsy, and shy” when I first started listening to him, but I think I’ll be a fan of Morrissey until I’m old and grey.