This Charming Man

Morrissey enraptured the Bass Concert Hall Sunday night

This Charming Man

Mariska Veres, 20-feet tall atop the big screen backdrop onstage, offered her Mona Lisa smile, the singer a painted porcelain doll perhaps mistaken for Grace Slick. Leading 1960s Dutch quartet the Shocking Blue through its world-renowned Top 40 pop sculpture, “Venus,” doe-eyed Veres, who died of cancer Dec. 2006, betrayed all the emotion of an ancient Louvre oil. A defiant steeliness shone from eyes piercing impassivity nevertheless.

As a road crew cleared the minimal gear of Manchester fivepiece the Courteeners, whose ringing 35 minutes at 8pm shook the Smiths, rattled Joy Division, and rolled 1980s UK bangers and mash, Morrissey’s between set audio-visual mix tape ran through two more Shocking Blue videos (“Ink Pot,” “Mighty Joe”), competing with amphetamine footage of the New York Dolls, and maybe even the evening’s host himself doing his best Elvis. First wave rock & roll transformed Austin’s dimly lit Bass Concert Hall into a vintage theater from some European city’s 1967.

At 8:56pm, out went the lights, screams filling the darkness as five men in black shirts and white Morrissey ties for sale in the lobby ($35) ran out ahead of a thick slab of beefcake in formal wear: bow tie, no cummerbund, silvering side burns. “Good evening YouTube!” he waved as his henchmen lit into the Smiths’ “This Charming Man.” New cumulonimbus “Black Cloud” took the bronze before four-spot “How Soon Is Now?” shook the temple long, hard, rapturous, Morrissey doing an upside down backstretch off the drum riser as its occupant banged a giant gong.

“Is there a better place to be on Easter Sunday?” demanded the headliner afterward.

Twenty songs in 75 minutes went off like the Beatles in Hamburg or the Stones at the Olympia in Paris circa 1966, Morrissey’s ramrod run through his muscle bound present and big-haired past executed with all masterful aplomb of only the top-most tier of English classic rockers – confident, fierce, take no prisoners. When Morrissey’s new Years of Refusal rocks harder than Mastodon’s sorry Crack the Skye only a no-frills nod to British Invasion-style kamikaze blitzes from the early and middle 1960s gets the job well and truly hammered out. The singer’s longtime sideman Boz Boorer traded guitar strafing with Jesse Tobias (“born and raised in Austin,” announced Morrissey), while Solomon Walker’s Clash-like bass solo to end the set shredded the Richter scale print out.

Spanking new fare “I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris,” Refusal detonator “Something is Squeezing My Skull,” and “One Day Goodbye will be Farewell” all sounded the red alert. “Sorry Doesn’t Help” didn’t apologize in the least. Stoking a selection of Smiths hits including “Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others,” “Death of a Disco Dancer,” and “Ask,” their Mancunian co-creator, 50 next month, stood his ground with a lion smile. “Had my face dragged in 15 miles of shit,” he sang on You Are the Quarry’s “How Can Anybody Possibly Know How I Feel?” but you’d never dare guess it. During “Let Me Kiss You,” Morrissey shucked off his third shirt of the set and an audience member six rows back got soaked a black shirt in the face. One-man plays tend toward the interactive, of course.

A sole encore, “First of the Gang to Die,” left plenty of uncovered territory from Rhino’s 2-CD 2008 fall collection, The Sound of the Smiths, but then Easter Sunday mass at Bass wasn’t about 30- or even 40-year-old nostalgia for a performer from the royal lineage of British rock & roll. When the Hall’s lights went up in the 80th minute and Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life” blared through the PA, Morrissey’s closing argument capped an open and shut case of greatness.

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Morrissey at Bass Concert Hall, Morrissey

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