Morrissey returned to D.C. on Wednesday, October 18, and he did not disappoint.
Even an hour before the show, fans lined the Wharf in anticipation of Morrissey’s performance at The Anthem. I talked to some employees, who, for the record, are the nicest people in the world, and shared in the chattering excitement all around us.
Upon entering the venue, I stood towards the back of a sea of middle-aged couples about 100 feet from where Morrissey would be in an hour’s time. The crowd was geared to recapture their glory days, and I was more than happy to sit in as they did so. There was a palpable pre-concert buzz, a brand of anticipation that could become addictive if one isn’t careful.
As we waited for Morrissey to come on stage, a screen projected a camp assortment of twentieth century media ranging from a Judy Garland performance to clips of the 1967 movie “To Sir With Love.” Sinéad O’Connor’s music video for “Nothing Compares 2 U” was the favorite and perhaps the most recognizable; The Anthem filled with cheers as the late Irish icon appeared on the screen.
And then, the lights dimmed as they always do, with the stage emanating a red tint and the screen reading the words, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” There it was: the iconic, booming voice of the British crooner. Morrissey belted out the opening line of “Make the World Go Away” to a cheering crowd.
The crowd rocked along as Morrissey sang solo songs such as “Our Frank,” “I Wish You Lonely,” and my personal favorite, “Alma Matters.” The audience erupted into eager applause as Morrissey and the accompanying band began playing The Smiths’ 1984 hit “How Soon is Now?”, one of two B-sides to their classic single “William, It Was Really Nothing.” Before each Smiths song, there was a subtle lull that naturally comes from Morrissey’s own distance from the old tunes. The audience, however, moved easily through the set list, entranced by a consistent tempo across most songs and the particular, nearly indescribable style that thematically links every track in Morrissey’s catalog.
The most moving and cathartic moment of the show was 1984’s “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want,” the other B-side to “William, It Was Really Nothing.” The enchantingly haunted tune hypnotized The Anthem. Couples began swaying in an indigo haze. Whereas the concert before was an energetic live rock experience, with this song, I suddenly felt overwhelmingly at peace and a part of some significant thing greater than myself. Was I the youngest person at the Morrissey concert? Maybe. Do I know anything about love or even loss? Maybe not. Nonetheless, I could relate to the themes of loneliness and desperation, and I could recognize the beauty of nostalgia.
As the audience reeled from the performance of one of the favorite songs of the night, the atmosphere was growing restless. I could sense the show was coming to close, but I did not know just how soon that would be.
During the penultimate song, Morrissey was repeatedly yelling out “rats” to the beat of a tune that ended abruptly on its own. But, no such luck for the last song. One fan decided to climb onto the stage and instead of “rats, rats, rats,” he shouted, “leave, leave, leave”. Morrissey left the stage mid-song because a fan tried to get a bit too close to him, and he never returned. As the lights flicked back on, I heard some complaints from audience members that Morrissey ended the show on a sour note. Yet, for anyone who knows the type of performer he is, it might just be part of the act.
Impressed with the singer’s enduring vocal ability and stage presence, I still left with an intangible sense of melancholy after the show in perfect Smiths fashion. Maybe that’s what Morrissey intended.