Is it true? Were we at long last in the presence of The Pope of Mope? The Plutarch of Snark? The Czar of Taking-This-Vegetarianism-Thing-a-Little-Too-Far? We had our doubts, but it finally happened: The Spin saw Morrissey at the Ryman last Wednesday, and based on all the onstage hugging, we're pretty sure it wasn't a hologram.
We came in from the dreariness of a rainy evening — weather we're almost convinced followed Morrissey's tour bus — and settled into our pew in time to catch singer/pianist Kristeen Young's opening set. Young, whose Dave Grohl collaboration LP The Knife Shift was released last month, appeared onstage looking like the lead in an industrial production of Sweeney Todd, flanked by drums and bass on either side. Though cut from the same art-school alterna-rock cloth as artists like Amanda Palmer, Young manages to avoid the obnoxious circus bullshit without losing the pageantry that makes her music compelling. Songs like "This Is War" thump along as aggressively as modern college rock allows, flitting in and out of idiosyncrasies that tweak the songs just enough to let the Kate Bush influences shine through.
As roadies tore down Young's gear, a playlist of cartoons, music videos, interviews and other ostensible Morrissey influencers screened on a cloth curtain at the front of the stage — there was live footage of The Ramones and New York Dolls, Italian ballads and, of course, a cartoon from PETA featuring a crying chicken. Then, at the stroke of 8:30 p.m., the curtain dropped to reveal Morrissey's backing band, which kicked into "How Soon Is Now?" under the watchful eye of two projected photos of a young Maya Angelou. Angelou, who passed away at the age of 86 on Wednesday, was regularly featured in the pre-show house mix at Morrissey gigs — a role reprised on Wednesday with audio of her poem "No, No, No, No" — and her image remained in the background as a sweet tribute to the late poet.
Nearly a decade has passed since Steven Patrick Morrissey graced Nashville with his presence; he last performed on the stage of the Ryman in 2004. These days, Morrissey is a bit older and perhaps worse for wear, but you'd never know it from seeing him onstage. After all, this is a guy who, during "Let Me Kiss You," tore off his shirt like Hulk Hogan and incited a fistfight when he whipped it into the crowd. The man's magnitude is off the charts, and he thrives off the wellspring of adulation coming from the audience.
Moz's 18-song return to Music City was a nearly comprehensive retrospective of his solo records, hitting tunes off Bona Drag, Your Arsenal and forward. Smiths fans likely came away disappointed — though discontentment is the natural predisposition of a Smiths fan — as only three of the band's songs made an appearance, including "Meat Is Murder" (featuring graphic videos of factory farms in the background, because ... Morrissey) and "Asleep." But even if your fandom tips far closer to The Smiths than Morrissey solo, as ours does, his showmanship and connection with the mob of fans who massed at the front of the stage is tough to deny.
At one point, Morrissey passed his microphone into the crowd and allowed an exasperated fan to demand to know "what did [he] do to the press to make them want to tear [him] down," specifically referencing a recent incident where buzzy indie rockers PAWS were nearly kicked off a bill in a neighboring venue, allegedly by Morrissey's team, and the blogger shark-circling that followed. That's kinda how a Morrissey show goes. It's an us-against-the-world affair, one that kindly ignores all of the wackadoo shit that is liable to come out of Morrissey's mouth at any given moment — for instance, he recently compared meat-eaters to pedophiles, which, yikes.
But at this point, we've gotten used to ignoring the flaws in artists we're into. And not unlike Kanye West, Morrissey's larger-than-life ego isn't just central to the reprehensible nonsense that he's prone to spew — it's the cornerstone of the entire Morrissey operation. And realistically, it's hard to imagine a Morrissey concert that isn't devoted to Moz soaking up the adoration while performing "Speedway." Slaughterhouse videos aside, Morrissey mostly used his ego for good, and the couple thousand people spilling out into the aisles of the Ryman couldn't have been happier.
It seems like the more time The Spin spends ambling about Nashville's increasingly trendy East Side, the less we recognize it. It's not just the new condos, apartments, shops and restaurants — its notoriously easy, sleazy vibe and even the crowds seem to be evolving. Looking about the mostly full room at The 5 Spot Saturday night, the mass of unfamiliar faces suggested most of these folks haven't been here long enough to remember when a packed 5 Spot show would have been a next-level move for local singing, songwriting, internationally praised alt-country diva Caitlin Rose. It's still not at all uncommon to spot Rose at the as-seen-on-TV haunt, but she's usually parked on a bar stool these days rather than the stage, having graduated to less frequent and higher profile gigs, including opening slots at the Ryman.
The Spin showed up early and immediately spotted Rose making the rounds, shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries while opener Pete Lindberg, supported by a crew of sidemen, serenaded the room with a sleepy, weepy whirl of twang, shuffle and earthy melodies. Speaking of recent transplants, Lindberg, a native of Gloucester, Mass., made his Nashville debut just a few months ago. But if we're not mistaken, Saturday night's set was his first non-solo performance in town. We look forward to more out of the kid.
Up next came Pueblo, Colo.'s The Haunted Windchimes, who presented a capable and compelling take on traditional folk and rootsy Americana. The quartet — largely barefoot and sporting a fiddler and a banjoist — sported endearing boy-girl harmonies, solid songwriting, occasional ragtimey indulgences and a percussion-less, jazzy sway. At one point, Rose herself joined the band to duet with baritone ukuleleist Desirae Garcia on a song plucked from Garcia's solo album. By set's end, all were joined by East Nashville stalwarts Los Colognes (Rose's current backing band) for a jam or two — it was the only time during the set when the volume of the band was louder than the din of the crowd's conversations, we're a little embarrassed to say.
Rose returned to the stage with Los Colognes in tow, unceremoniously stomping and rumbling through most of the songs off of last year's The Stand-In. In addition to Rose's version of The Deep Vibration's "I Was Cruel" — the second track from The Stand-In and a tune that Rose identified as one of her favorite songs ever to come out of Nashville — the set featured covers of songs by The National, Pernice Brothers and Hank Williams (the latter of which, "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," featured an assist from The Haunted Windchimes). There was also a Colognes song or two thrown into the mix, and the band took a breather mid-set while opener Lindberg was called up for an original duet with Rose.
As we noted before, it's been a while since The Spin has seen a hometown Caitlin Rose show this intimate. Turns out, this intimacy can make a lot of difference. Unlike the bigger shows we've seen in the past year or two, this performance was a hell of a lot more boisterous and carefree. Tempos were ramped and Rose's off-the-cuff crowd interaction was full-on and peppered with dozens of F-bombs, but while she was singing, her pipes were hushed a notch or so. As far as Los Colognes, they're extremely tight — probably as tight and technically proficient as any band we've seen behind Rose, even if their jammy tendencies push The Stand-In's songs a little further away from the gritty Southern edge they sport when Steelism serves as Rose's backing band.
There is a distinctly "Caitlin Rose" moment when her voice trumpets and quakes up high in its register, assuming a character and charisma distinctly its own — but those moments were few and punctuated with a marked response from the crowd. Rose's solo rendition of "Sinful Wishing Well" — one of her more harrowing and heartbreaking ballads — was delivered as more of a lighthearted sing-along. After a raucous, set-closing run through 2010's Own Side Now cut "Shanghai Cigarettes," Rose, seemingly on a whim, decided to say goodnight with a days-old a cappella number we have scribbled in our notes as "Little Loves."
The party carried on as Los Colognes rounded out the night with their own set, and in typical 5 Spot fashion, regulars stuck around drinking until they kicked everyone out. Thank heavens some things in East Nashville will always be the same.
Less crying, more packing Ben. Good riddance.
"That’s all I got to say." - thats right piano boy time to move along
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