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Live: Morrissey at the Gibson Amphitheatre

December 11, 2009 |  1:14 pm

The English singer shows no signs of his difficult year.

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 To go by the lyrics of the dozens of extravagantly unhappy songs he's written since he founded the Smiths a quarter of a century ago, the English singer known simply as Morrissey doesn't really experience anything but rough years.

Yet 2009 has been difficult by even his miserable standards. In October he collapsed onstage during a show in Swindon, England, after apparently suffering from breathing troubles. Three weeks later, he was bonked in the head by a bottle at Liverpool's Echo Arena and left the stage after singing two songs. Then, last week, he canceled a gig in Indio, saying he'd damaged his voice the previous night performing in Las Vegas.

So you could've forgiven the guy for taking it easy Thursday night at the Gibson Amphitheatre, where he and his five-man band played the next-to-last show on a brief West Coast tour in support of "Swords," a new collection of B-sides from Morrissey's last four solo albums. Perhaps he might have sung while sitting upon an enormous throne, Loretta Lynn-style, or broken the set into chunks to allow for regular backstage refreshment.

But no, Morrissey strode onstage a few minutes after his scheduled 9:15 start time and launched into a spirited rendition of "This Charming Man," one of the Smiths' earliest singles and a perfect distillation of the singer's faux-pathetic worldview. "Welcome to hell," he deadpanned over the crowd's deafening applause when the song was over, and it was clear our old friend was feeling fine.

Well, not fine, exactly. In "Black Cloud" -- from Morrissey's other 2009 release, February's "Years of Refusal" -- he lamented, "There is nothing I can do to make you mine." And later, at the end of "When Last I Spoke to Carol," he described the death of a friend with these reassuring words: "She had faded to something I always knew / To the rescue nobody ever comes."

Still, there was a kind of well-worn comfort in Morrissey's melancholy that extended from his total confidence in what he does. As the Gibson's house lights went up following his 80-minute set, Frank Sinatra's "My Way" poured out of the speakers, and if many of Morrissey's young fans assumed the choice was ironic -- you know, post-punk icon lampooning the self-satisfied excess of the old-fashioned elite -- Thursday's concert illustrated just how much the two master stylists have in common: an off-hand physicality, an impatience with small minds, stage banter that can come across like excerpts from some private dialogue.

Stylistic dexterity too. Though Morrissey's still-handsome voice unified everything he performed, the music jumped from chiming folk-pop in "Why Don't You Find Out for Yourself" to noisy hard rock in "I'm OK by Myself" to blocky late-'80s funk in a terrific version of the Smiths' "How Soon Is Now?" that concluded with drummer Matt Walker taking a whack at an outsized gong.

Following the first of those three tunes, Morrissey handed his microphone into the audience for comments from the crowd. "I want you, I need you, I love you, Morrissey," proclaimed one woman with a flash of lyricism her idol might have envied.

"It will pass," he replied.

-- Mikael Wood

Photo: Morrissey, who canceled a show in Indio last week saying he had damaged his voice performing the night before, did a mostly spirited 80-minute set. Credit: Bret Hartman / For the Times

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