April 25-May 1, 2007

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Currently carnal: Um, Morrissey has kegs between his legs.

Moz Deft

Morrissey likes us--he really likes us!

By David Sason

I agree. It's pretty amazing that Morrissey is coming to Santa Rosa on May 2. The pompadoured post-punk crooner, who's been a spokesman for outcasts and disaffected youth worldwide and a sexually ambiguous scourge to the Western establishment for a quarter century, is more divisive than other artists the Wells Fargo Center usually hosts. And the sunny, spacious environs of Sonoma County couldn't be further from the dank, industrial hometown of Manchester that the singer's always embodied (even if he's lived in L.A. for most of the last decade).

It's true that Moz has played the North Bay twice before, but in the midst of very different points on his career trajectory. He played the Phoenix in 1997 in support of his disappointing release Maladjusted. When he played the then-named Luther Burbank Center in 2002, he was in career purgatory. With no album to promote or even a record contract by which to feel constricted, Morrissey offered a set chock-full of Smiths and solo favorites. When he launched into "Meat Is Murder," throngs of middle-aged vegetarians rejoiced at the landmark animal-rights anthem. Indie credibility or not, nostalgia is nostalgia, captured best by his humorous jab at an act scheduled to follow just days later. "For those who don't know," he told the crowd, "no, we are not Hall and Oates."

But there were signs of new life at that show, namely the bouncy tribute to his unlikely Hispanic fan base, "First of the Gang to Die," and his gentle yet acerbic Mott the Hoople-esque rant "The World Is Full of Crashing Bores." These songs would help compose 2004's shimmering You Are the Quarry, an update on a few of his favorite things: isolation as both curse and badge of honor; Victorian-style romantic frustration; and, of course, self-righteous contempt for tyrants both divine and worldly.

The album became Morrissey's biggest seller ever, and suddenly he was everywhere: in Smiths songs packed into the iPods of a new generation, getting awards from PETA while announcing a boycott of Canada for its seal hunting, reuniting his heroes the New York Dolls and, unbelievably, playing on U.S. radio for the first time in a decade. It seemed like Morrissey's practice in the art of self-mythmaking had finally reached its zenith. Yet despite a false rumor about a Berkeley show, there were no Bay Area appearances, made worse for his rabid devotees by Quarry's tone of impending departure.

But Morrissey did return with last year's Ringleader of the Tormentors, produced by Tony Visconti in Rome, where Morrissey had recently defected. While not the return to Your Arsenal-like glam rock many hoped for, the symphonic, almost prog-rock set continued his tasteful update of motifs, including a new universal truth for outcasts in "The Youngest Was the Most Loved." Most satisfying is the rarely seen side of Morrissey--the currently carnal.

Much has been made of his portrayal of love that's (finally) requited, especially in "Dear God Please Help Me" where he ecstatically moans about the "explosive kegs between my legs" and "spreading your legs with mine in between." Gladly, all this nookie hasn't diminished his clever commentary on world affairs, appearing most potently in the opener "I Will See You in Far Off Places," a Middle Eastern-tinged tale of a distant love with whom he'll reunite if, as he says, "the U.S.A. doesn't bomb you."

With Modest Mouse's recruitment of Johnny Marr and Morrissey's much-publicized legal battles with drummer Mike Joyce, it's safe to say that the Smiths reunion will never extend beyond old Coachella rumors. And anyway, Morrissey is too much the iconoclast to resign to the inevitable cash-in, something that would truly stain his legacy. His bitterness has served him well in recent years, resurrecting his career, relevance and apparently even his love life.

His return to the North Bay is so much more meaningful this time around, because we're catching him on the upswing--he doesn't have to play here. This show makes up for a five-year absence and even the Warfield show announcement that lived for only a few hours back in January. Even if he has another case of what he called "Petaluma throat," this show is Morrissey's reciprocation of many locals' own outpouring of affection. And with nary a bad seat in the intimate house, perhaps fans will recall one of his most famous lyrics: "The more you ignore me, the closer I get."

Morrissey appears on Wednesday, May 2, at the Wells Fargo Center. Kristeen Young opens. 50 Mark West Springs Road, Santa Rosa. 8pm. $39.50-$65. 707.546.3600.

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