Then current album: Kill Uncle
Opening act: The Planet Rockers
Back of ticket ad: free popcorn should I have deigned to go to AMC Theatres to watch…what would I have watched, actually. Fall 1991, a dim and distant place in many ways.
And, yes, I did add a ‘NOT!’ after Morrissey’s name there after the show. Mike Myers, inflicting a scar that never actually healed.
Thing was, of course, I did actually see him. But it wasn’t all that long of a show, which remains one of the most notorious ones I’ve attended.
I am, in retrospect, kinda glad I didn’t get into the Smiths and Morrissey in high school, given how disconnected I feel from that time. I’m sure I would have appreciated them greatly — then again, would I have done? I knew of them, the first ever song of theirs I heard was “Bigmouth Strikes Again” thanks to a friend in 11th grade English, remembered thinking both the singing and the lyrics were pretty weird, while my sis owning the Pretty in Pink soundtrack helped me get very familiar with “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want” — and she ended up with a copy of Louder Than Bombs for Christmas 1987. (And remember, my sis is younger than me; she would have been halfway through eighth grade.) I only bought my own copy of that in spring of 1989 so I like to think of my first ‘real’ Smiths song experience being the start of “Is It Really So Strange” — and that start is actually pretty locked into my memory for some reason, listening in my dorm room right before the start of spring break. From there I got it, more or less, and slowly but surely built up my collection of Smiths and Morrissey solo releases over the next few years, a poster or two as well.
I never could be said to be a hyperfan, for all that — collecting every pressing or knowing every cover image or literary reference or so forth — and I’ve known some obsessives then and now, and still do. Morrissey is if nothing else someone who knows how to sell himself just so, a button pusher when given the opportunity, somebody who pulls off the push/pull impact of privacy and fame more readily than most; little surprise he’s been able to cultivate audience after audience, that with his American relocation he eventually commanded a Latino following in SoCal that baffled many who could only imagine him as someone who sang bedsit anthems to nobody when one of his greatest gifts remains knowing how to capture a feeling, a situation, a desire in a way that translates, that transcends. I could rattle off most everything he’s written and performed without having to think about it and for all that his insular muse writes off entire sonic approaches — hell, societies — as not worth it, something I find baffling given my own reference points, that same muse is what’s driven him all this time with the collaborators he’s had.
1991 was in many ways his year when it came to Southern California. He’d already played out here a couple of times with the Smiths, so it wasn’t unknown territory or anything, but when the (in retrospect perfect) delay between his last turn and his first full solo go-round wrapped up earlier in the year with an appearance at the Forum, it was a sold-out frenzy by all accounts. Not that I was there, and not that I was surrounded by people who were or wanted to be — Steve M. was the guy who introduced me to the Warlock Pinchers’ extremely rude “Morrissey Rides a Cockhorse,” while around the same time I am pretty sure I first heard long time Squirrels member Joey Kline’s debut album Pomp and Circuspants, beginning with a note-perfect parody of Viva Hate called “Mrs. Smith” that I still adore. Steve and Kris C. and plenty of others vented away about him while we listened to all sorts of things and went to all sorts of shows, not a constant theme but it fit in with a general sense of ‘argh, new idols please’ at work during that time. (And as someone who had kicked U2 to the curb a couple of years back and was about to be utterly horrified at their return with Achtung Baby, I could sympathize.)
But as I mentioned, I knew obsessives, one of whom was the younger sister of my roommate Jen. (And logically I’m completely blanking on her name so I’m going to apologize in advance. [EDIT: Kelly! That was her name, thanking Xana down in comments.]) Jen’s family lived in north San Diego County so I had a chance to meet them on the way home during the previous holiday season; her sis was very friendly, pretty smart and intense, quite attractive and loved the Smiths and Morrissey. A lot. A LOT. I seem to remember lyrics written all over her bedroom wall — not written on paper put up on the wall, written ON the wall — and general bemusement at her antics by her mom and stepdad. There was also the story about how a friend of hers apparently did a very good Morrissey himself while singing with his band — not in a parodic way, he was a total hyperfan too — and how a tape had gotten to the man himself and he’d apparently expressed interest in hearing more.
So when Morrissey first toured that year, he started in San Diego and I’ve no doubt Jen’s sis was there going happily nuts — this return tour also featured a San Diego stop but the LA one was perfect for me in many ways — like some of the previous shows I’ve mentioned, it was right on campus at UCLA, only in this case at Pauley Pavilion. No surprise there; given the size of his last stop through it was unlikely Ackerman Grand Ballroom would be anywhere near big enough, and by the time I got tickets, we were tucked away to side of the stage and a little behind it — not completely behind it, which would have been pretty pointless, but it was a slightly odd over the shoulder angle, if at a distance in the upper level of seats. Still, it was a show, I had tickets and Jen’s sis came up from San Diego for it. Couldn’t complain, and didn’t!
We walked over from the apartment easily enough — I don’t remember much about getting in and finding our seats but no question that the place was as packed out as the stage set-up allowed for. It might not have been the same overwhelming levels of obsession as Depeche Mode was but this was a crowd fully, completely into the headliner in a way I’d rarely sensed up until then. We settled in and chatted but her focus was much more on the show than anything else, even though he hadn’t appeared on stage yet and wouldn’t for some time. Which all made perfect sense.
The Phantom Rockers did their rockabilly thing and left and that’s about all I can say — I think it was good, I just don’t remember much about it, and again, three guys mostly facing away from us makes for a slightly uninvolving show to watch and get into. Next thing I can remember is Morrissey on stage and…not quite chaos, but definitely an appreciation for how I was up in the seats and not down in front. Being able to see a swathe of the faces pressing up against the stage, arms extended, all the cheering and shouting and more besides, it wasn’t quite a view from the performer’s eye but it was still pretty impressive and unsettling at the same time.
Getting used to things like the odd dance/lope/flail/strut that defines how he moves (or at least moved) at the time was its own experience — it’s all slightly muddy in my memory there, it wasn’t like he ever pretended to be a choreographer, though I wonder how often he practices anyway. And the set, full of familiar songs from the two albums and huge run of singles he had put out in the UK under his own name, was good enough as I remember it. But I remember more a statement he made in between songs that ended something like: “You don’t have to stay in your seats if you don’t want to!” There were cheers and I probably thought something about how he wanted people up out of their seats and dancing or whatever, understandable enough.
Then a minute or two later I looked in bewilderment at the stream of people charging down the aisle next to where we were sitting. But there’s nowhere to go…?
He definitely did not say that the crowd should charge the stage, and I heard that being alleged a few times. The danger of being crushed at a concert is no joke — happened before, could all too easily happen again — so the fact that things were eventually shut down wasn’t surprising. Seeing the intense crowd get more and more packed in was a little uneasy but the band and the man kept performing, and I’ve told the story a few times since: stage invasions are part and parcel for Morrissey appearances, people running up and giving him a hug, but seeing upwards of five or so people on stage grabbing him at the same time from various limbs — and seeing him continue to sing through it all — is something I’ve never seen since. He knows how to deal with it all, I guess.
But it couldn’t last that night. After a warning that the show was at risk of being shut down, he introduced a new song, “We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful,” then about half a year away from release, and about halfway through the song it all got too much. The crush up front was too strong, too many people were on stage, and I don’t recall him leaving so much as being bundled off by a combination of security and fans and who knows who else. The band left and there was a limbo of about thirty minutes as some unknown guy spoke into a microphone about how everyone would need to step back or else Morrissey wouldn’t return, fans waited to see what would happen, cheers and shouts and more all mingling together. We just sat and waited and wondered and talked.
Eventually the announcement came that he wasn’t coming back, the show was cancelled, and the booing and complaints began. I took it as a sign that it would be best to get out and leave whatever mess was to come to itself (which, if you read this concert report, was best avoided), so we decamped and walked back to the apartment being surprised about it all. But I don’t remember feeling disappointed or bummed that seeing Morrissey had turned into a wash like that — maybe a little, but it wasn’t some wrenching thing, and while Jen’s sis obviously wasn’t completely happy either I don’t remember her having a fit over it. If the show had never happened at all I suppose we would have felt differently; I think I was laughing about it all by the time we got back to the apartment.
There were reports and apologies and more the following day and KROQ eventually broadcast a tape of a show from earlier in the tour by way of a make-up gift or the like to the audience. A Santa Monica show went off without a hitch a couple of days later, so maybe it was just all about one inopportune turn of phrase in the end. Wouldn’t see him again in concert for another six years, but that would be at a UC campus and that would be a legendary show as well. I’ll yet get to that.