Monday, October 22, 2007

"It's Wednesday, it's Waukegan, and we've come to cheer you up."

True, it seems like a strange city choice for Morrissey's booking agent and given the dreary weather situation, some cheering up was in order, but neither rain nor remoteness could keep the Moz maniacs from making the trek to see their fearless idol. In fact, for some of our trip we found ourselves tailing a car with Nebraska plates whose back window proclaimed "Morrissey! Waukegan, 10/17!" in big white block letters. Nebraska! And proud enough to shout it out as if Morrissey was the name of their cheerleading team and they were headed to the state championships.

The Genesee Theater of Waukegan is a beautiful old theater with a rich history, rough around the edges but newly renovated to best replicate the glitzy glory of the old days. Even as a moderately fanatical Morrissey fan, the symbolism was not lost on me, my first experience being at the 4000 capacity Aragon Ballroom, then the slightly smaller Auditorium Theater, and now this three-fourths filled north suburban outpost. In all instances the pre-show rituals were the same. A large screen in front of the stage showed old movie clips. James Dean wardrobe tests, Bridget Bardot video, and some backstage footage of the New York Dolls. When the house lights were killed, the screen dropped, revealing a Warhol-esque triple print of Richard Burton, and after a quick intro sample, the band took the stage and the screams were deafening.

"It's Wednesday, it's Waukegan, and we've come to cheer you up," Morrissey declared as they kicked off the set with The Smiths classic, "Stop Me If You Think That You've Heard This One Before," much to the delight of the crowd. Without a second to spare, Your Arsenal's "Tomorrow" crashed in and Morrissey took the opportunity to grab the mic stand as a pointer and read aloud the words printed on drummer Matt Walker's kick drum: Some Of Us Is Getting Nasty. The band, always dressed alike and never the same as their leader, wore plain white collared shirts and black pants looking like they'd be more likely to fill your water glass than play a raging solo. Morrissey strutted back and forth on the stage in a silky dark blue shirt swinging the mic cord and occasionally stepping up to the crowd to offer a coy look or a gracious hand to his adoring devotees.

The set was very different from the previous two outings, and both band and crowd seemed to be energized a bit more when the surprises of "Why Don't You Find Out For Yourself," "The World is Full of Crashing Bores," and "Shoplifters of the World Unite" hit. Even slow burners like "Death of a Disco Dancer" and "Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me" drew shivers. We were also treated to three new songs on the already completed follow up to Ringleader of the Tormentors.

Morrissey was in usual character with quick wit and snappy comments, but you could sense an unmistakable road weariness. He occasionally grabbed at his throat as if choking out his last words. He took some liberty with lyrics ("when the English are sick to death of Labor" became "when the Americans are sick to death of Republicans" in "Irish Blood, English Heart") and mentioned something about being in staggering pain and laid down on stage during the outro of "Dear God, Please Help Me," before resurrecting for the set-ending tremolo onslaught of "How Soon Is Now?"

Despite these brief flashes of onstage mortality, the fans still fought tooth and nail for his set-sweaty shirt, and during the encore of "The First of the Gang to Die" rushed the stage to try and touch their aging hero. On a message board devoted to Morrissey shows, one Waukegan fan announced that he finally made it onstage. "I was able to touch Morrissey's forearm for a
second. Finally on my 10th show, my dream came true." Lucky for him because there has been much speculation as to whether or not this would be the very last tour. And though the set was enjoyable and occasionally brilliant, you think of those few moments of uncertainty and you have to wonder how many Wednesdays in Waukegan old Moz has left in him.-B. Nanna

Photo by B. Nanna