Four days after America elected Donald Trump president, England’s most enigmatic pop contrarian, Morrissey, strode to center stage at the Eccles Theater and delivered some sage advice: “The less you expect, the more you receive.” Then his band launched into the opening chords of “Alma Matters,” a track from Moz’s maligned 1997 album, Maladjusted. Its first verse took on a new depth in light of the politically charged atmosphere: “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.”
The song kicked off a lively and nuanced ninety-minute performance, with Morrissey in apparently high spirits, quipping to the crowd and even stooping to sign merchandise for the devoted throng massed along the edge of the stage. The set list deviated little from the one he’s been following on this recent leg of tour dates but the playing was spirited, and Moz’s voice sounded rich and resonant in the Eccles’ vaulted hall.
Highlights included an exquisitely moody “Jack The Ripper,” with the band bathed in fog and muted lights, a surprise rendition of the Smiths classic, “Shoplifters Of The World Unite” (with the wryly revised lyric “My only weakness is I live too long”), and a crushingly heartfelt and apocalyptic “Meat Is Murder,” ending in a crescendo of gong shimmer, guitar feedback, and a defiant slogan projected in white text against the darkness: WHAT’S YOUR EXCUSE NOW? MEAT IS MURDER. Later, after introducing each member of his band – all bedecked in suspenders and matching shirts with the word HOPE – Morrissey lightened the mood, bowing slightly to the audience and declaring “and I… have no insides.”
After last year’s summer U.S. tour, Morrissey wrote on his website that the Salt Lake City show at The Depot was his favorite date of the whole trek. This fondness for the city or his fan base here was certainly on display Saturday night. Few singers of his generation remain so strident yet sensitive, clever but caustic. That lyrics he wrote 30 years ago still ring so true and so troubling is testament to his ageless talent. In the midst of a rousing, strobe-lit “How Soon Is Now,” a phrase cut straight to the heart: “I’ve already waited too long / and all of my life is gone.”