Salata Open Air Festival, Zagreb, Croatia, 7/06/2006
Fortuna has been a cracking mistress to Morrissey lately. After wandering a late '90s wilderness label-less and increasingly unloved as his audience and reputation dwindled, Morrissey's legend underwent a sparkling renovation this decade. Reportedly offered upwards of $10 million to reunite The Smiths for a single show in the US, and back on the throne in the UK with his first solo #1 record in April (tour tickets sold out in 20 minutes), adoration is running at a level not seen since the split up of The Smiths in 1987. Name checking by everyone from Radiohead to indie hip-hop MC Murs, new band names such as Boy Least Likely and Panic! At The Disco referencing his lyrics, and an aesthetic upgrade in location from Los Angeles to Rome have further augmented Morrissey's new sheen. UK magazine NME even dedicated an entire June issue to The Queen is Dead, marking the 20th anniversary of The Smiths' magnum opus with the same revered treatment that Rolling Stone gave The Beatles' Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band on its 20th. Though the quiffed one might disagree, it's hard to imagine how the recent accolades for a graying 47-year-old who once sang "Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want" could get any sweeter, short of UNESCO proclaiming his distinguished underbite a World Heritage Site.
His star waxing thus, Morrissey strides onto the stage in Zagreb as headliner of the Salata Open Air Festival. A half moon over him, 3,000 eager Croatians in front of him and a 60-foot image of Oscar Wilde behind him, Morrissey and the band, wearing white t-shirts that read "Meso Je Ubojstvo" (Croatian for "Meat Is Murder"), launch into "How Soon Is Now." The familiar tremolo effect sets the crowd to dancing as it so often has, forever vying with New Order's "Blue Monday" as the seminal club track of the '80s, if not all time.
A gold band-aid on his temple, swinging his mic cord like Will Roger' lasso, Morrissey proves irresistible to the responsive Croatians, who extend a three-song grace period on the muddy vocals that are the backwash of festival sound checks. With enthusiasm and energy flowing between artist and audience on the fetching "First Of The Gang To Die," the last of the international playboys gets brazen with his set list. Unwilling to knock out a nostalgic greatest hits package, Morrissey focuses on his latest two releases, singing three tracks from 2004's You Are the Quarry and eight off this year's Ringleader of the Tormenters. The results and reaction of the crowd are shockingly good. "Life Is A Pigsty" is as momentous as "I Will See You In Far-off Places" is massive, while "I'll Never Be Anybody's Hero Now" drips with the kind of glam grandeur that David Bowie hasn’t mustered in decades. That he carries off such a performance—with only occasional dips into The Smiths' catalog and playing nothing from the seven solo albums released from 1987 to 2003—is a testament to wearing his laurels audaciously rather than resting on them.
Between songs the banter flows. Winsome bits such as, "I am going to dream about you tonight – with my eyes open," and, "The saddest songs are always the best – I don’t know why," drift into spotlighted swarms of mosquitoes, which he quaintly dubs "Mozzies." A cover of the New York Dolls’ "Human Being" is followed by the baroque, bombastic and brilliant "Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me." The concert closes all too suddenly with "Panic," its euphoric chorus of "Hang the DJ" shouted halfway across the capital by the crowd. The band members then chuck their "Meat Is Murder" shirts into the ecstatic audience and wave good-bye before returning for a shirtless encore of "Irish Blood, English Heart."
And with that, Morrissey, 20 years after "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" soared into the stratosphere of pop music’s finest moments, bows beneath the auspicious glance of Oscar's eyes and ambles off the stage, leaving 3,000 deliriously happy Croatians wanting more. Tonight, the man has matched the myth. The Queen, indeed, may be dead, but the King is doing just fine.