NON-COMM Recap: Morrissey brings theatrics and bombast on opening night

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Morrissey | photo by Gabriela Barbieri for WXPN

Morrissey was as cynical, self-obsessed and self-assured as ever at NonCOMM on Tuesday night. “I have to warn you before I begin,” he offered slyly as he took center stage. “I have never in my life been this close to another human being. So If I don’t do something illegal, I will do something extremely… enjoyable.”

The World Cafe crowd responded with a roar, and the band burst into a rowdy rendition of “Alma Matters” from Morrissey’s 1997 album Maladjusted. His croon was grave and full-throated, and the band matched his machismo with pounding drums and several wailing guitar solos early in the set. Morrissey strutted across the stage, full of pomp and in his element; he danced with his microphone stand, clapped along to the band, and took every opportunity to denounce his critics, including in song. “So, the choice I have made may seem strange to you. But who asked you anyway? It’s my life to wreck, my own way,” began his opening number. The Manchester native dressed himself in all black, with a t-shirt proclaiming “MEAT IS MURDER” (also the name of a 1985 LP by his former band, The Smiths) and dressed his band in blood-red tees that threatened “BE KIND TO SEALS OR I’LL CULL YOU.” (These shirts are also available on Morrissey’s website.)

But for all his sarcasm, egotism and brash political inclinations, the Philadelphia crowd still hoped to show Morrissey plenty of genuine affection. Dozens of fans standing in the front row reached out to hold his hand each time he stepped downstage; one of his most ardent fans attempted to climb onstage before being shoved back down by a security officer, and another fan got so far as to step onto center stage and lock Morrissey in an embrace before security managed to pull them away from the singer.

Morrissey | photo by Gabriela Barbieri for WXPN

The crowd enjoyed a set spanning Morrissey’s career, including “I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris” from 2009’s Years of Refusal, the Pretenders cover “Back on the Chain Gang” from 2017’s Low in High School, and the Jobriath cover “Morning Starship” from his upcoming album California Son. The new album, due out May 24th via Etienne, will feature covers of songs by Morrissey’s heroes, and will include collaborations with Grizzly Bear‘s Ed Droste, Green Day‘s Billy Joe Armstrong, Broken Social Scene‘s Ariel Engle, and others.

Recently, as Morrissey has begun making public appearances to promote California Son, journalists and fellow musicians have criticized him for his outspoken support of For Britain, a UK political party that many have deemed extremist and racist. On Monday night, Morrissey appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon to perform “Morning Starship,” and he wore a lapel pin featuring For Britain’s trident logo. On Monday night at NonCOMM, he wore no pin and made no mention of the controversy, although he seemed bent on repelling all those who might judge him (as usual).

In between two songs, he gave the crowd a snarky smile and chuckled, “As I thank you now, I have many critics. I have many critics. As you know, I have many critics,” he repeated, before concluding, “They’re all idiots!” With that, he exploded into his most contemptuous number of the night, “If You Don’t Like Me, Don’t Look At Me.”  “See if I care! See if I care! See if I care!” he taunted in each verse. Growling lead guitar propelled this song toward its climactic finish, which was marked by Morrissey’s send-off, “Don’t get your knickers in a twist!” (These lyrics do not appear in the recorded version from 2009.)

Morrissey also performed one Smiths track — “That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore” from Meat is Murder — before finishing with “The Bullfighter Dies” and the menacing “Jack the Ripper.” During the closer, white strobe lights struck him as his deep laugh echoed through the hall. Then, while the clanging guitars faded and the stage smoke dissolved, he smugly proclaimed, “I love you. Goodnight.” He tore his shirt in two, ripped it off and tossed it into the crowd, then departed.

Morrissey will return to the area in September for a show with Interpol at BB&T Pavilion in Camden. His new covers album, California Son, comes out May 24th.

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