Decades of Pop-Stardom on Display When Morrissey the Entertainer Takes the Stage

This past Saturday, while perched on a marble railing above the lobby of the beautiful recently restored Capitol Theater in Port Chester, New York, before a sold-out concert from Morrissey, it was easy to find the former Smiths front-man’s face: on badges fans had stuck to their winter coats. It was there, after a fashion, in the many fans who had adopted some version of his famous floppy pompadour and it was there, more officially, on sale—posters, mouse pads, and somewhere between 14 and 18 different T-shirts. It was even on the drink tickets, which were in the style of tiny $1,000 bills with Moz’s face right in the center.

Once the show started, however, it was a bit harder to find. Morrissey, now 53 and almost halfway through his fourth decade as a pop icon, spent much of the show lit from behind or above, making him appear in silhouette. He ran off stage frequently (mostly to change shirts), and often turned his back on the audience. It wasn’t even entirely clear if the face in the center of the kickdrum was his or if it was the drummer, or someone else entirely.

At the same time, he spent long stretches of the show reaching out to touch the audience, as is his custom—holding hands, locking eyes, and accepting gifts. He ended this concert, as he does most, by pulling fans onto stage to hug him (anyone who jumped on stage unbidden during this portion was put in choke hold by security and hurled back into the crowd). It’s his show. His famously fanatically and devoted fans, who came in all ages and ethnicities, from gray-haired men in dad jeans to pink-haired seapunk 20-somethings, were there not just to see him, but to connect with him and bask in his presence. But then why did he seem to go to such lengths to take their eyes off of him?

Morrissey has spent these many years painting himself into a unique corner—wildly, internationally famous for being honest and introverted. These are two things that are hard to maintain; it’s much easier to be famous for playing the guitar, or having nice boobs. He’s paid the price for trying to maintain the former: his off-the-cuff comments and attempts to honestly engage with his interviewers have gotten him labeled everything from a racist to a xenophobe, a closeted thug, and a terrorist sympathizer. The latter is no less vexing—how can you be a pop star and still pose as a wilting wallflower? Part of his answer in the last decade and a half has been to largely abandon that pose, becoming in middle age more of a blustery bruiser, less the person the wallflower fan is than the person they might wish they were. No longer does he stand in the corner and mutter that someone ought to hang the DJ; now he defiantly says what he believes and dares anyone to disagree from within the broad-shouldered and square-jawed build of a Guy Ritchie character.

His legions fans and virtually unquestioning adulation among critics (separate from the tabloid journalists who seek to make a quick buck from stirring up controversy) are also something of an albatross. Walking into the show, my head was swimming with images of various hopelessly devoted Morrissey fans I’d know or seen over the years: the black haired, facially-pierced backpack patch-sporting girls I’d know in high school and college, the fanatically over-identifying Mexican-American fans in William E. Jones’s Is It Really So Strange, or the wafer-thin androgynous boys from just after college. I have been reading rapturous writing about the man most of my life. Take, for example, this quote from Simon Goddard, author of Songs That Saved Your Life, who told The Believer in 2004 that “Morrissey solo has become more of a religious experience. It’s all about what he represents. It’s sort of like kissing the papal ring.”

Could the man just put on a good show, have a beer, and go to bed? Is it possible for him to be other than transcendent? Given the show I saw Saturday, I’d say it definitely is—which I don’t mean as an insult. His voice is strong, he’s in great physical shape (unsurprising for relatively wealthy man in his fifties in 2013), and he seemed at times genuinely engaged, especially when showing graphic videos of animal cruelty as he sang “Meat is Murder.” Still, other times felt strongly rehearsed. The way he left the stage to change shirts just before launching into “Let Me Kiss You” so that he could tear it off and hurl it into the crowd at the moment he sings “Then you open your eyes / And see someone you physically despise,” felt as if it had been done thousands upon thousands of times before.

And, of course, it has. No matter what we might fool ourselves into believing, performances are rehearsed. We just don’t want them to feel that way. An audience wants to feel present at a spontaneous bit of electric presentness by their idol, to share a perfect bit of time together. And this weekend, they got to. If Morrissey didn’t perform exactly as someone might expect, well, I’m sure they could go fuck themselves, as far as he cared. He did exactly what he wanted. And in the end, that’s the most Morrissey thing he could have done, which is what everyone was after in the first place.

Illustration by Kevin Alvir.

Opening Across NYC: Four Steakhouses

It’s not exactly rigorous science, but the launching of new steakhouses must say something positive about the state of the economy. The beneficiaries are outside of downtown, in the natural habitats of expense accounts and the people who fund them. On Friday, the Arlington Club will make a big splash on a Lexington Avenue corner. The space has housed UES demographics as reliable as a Republican club and a skating rink, and this clubby steak palace fits right in with the pedigree. Arched ceilings and skylights make for dramatic overheads. Earth-toned accents and vintage black and whites amplify the “club” in the name. Fusion pros Tao have joined forces with Laurent Tourondel for the steakhouse menu. There will be red meat, of course, highlighted by a signature côte de boeuf dry-aged for four weeks. If you find yourself with a sexy cardiologist to impress, you can opt for creative sushi, like peekytoe crab with mango and curry-lemongrass.

While the original Delmonico’s dusts off from Sandy, midtown welcomes a spin-off 175 years in the making. Delmonico’s Kitchen combines the heritage of the original with up-to-date vibes. Candlelit tables, red leather banquettes, and a long marble bar anchor the scene. The menu stands ready for the 21st century, employing organic and local ingredients, and freshening up signatures like lobster Newburg and baked Alaska. Perilously large and juicy steaks justify the legends. If you’re not in the mood for beef, rest assured they know their way around a plate of eggs Benedict. They invented it.

Brasserie fare is the focus of the newest version of The Smith, holding down prime (pun intended) real estate across from Lincoln Center. Unlike its two siblings, uptown has an expanded steak program, with filet mignon, NY strip, and prime rib among the offerings. The interior is McNally-esque, crossing a French café with homegrown industrial chic. White tile, blackened steel, and a zinc bar bump the atmosphere. An elaborate drinks program breaks things down into muddlers, fancy cocktails, and long pours, ensuring you’ll never sit through Le Nozze di Figaro sober again. (Although if for some reason you want to, they also have low-alcohol pre-theater mixes.)

The latest from John DeLucie of Crown and The Lion fame is the reboot of a classic ’20s speakeasy. “Gay” and “Nineties” are gone from the name, leaving just a stripped-down Bill’s. The historical interior is likewise absent, although the look remains eclectic, littered with artwork and the odd deer head and captain’s wheel. White tablecloths are laid out for a chophouse menu. A raw bar starts things off, running from oysters and stone crab claws to California golden osetra. Racks of lamb, rib-eyes, and 35-day prime porterhouses follow. There’s even a Delmonico, in case you can’t make it across town for the original.

Steak is back. We’ll never eat bánh mì again.

Group Dinner Lottery

Organizers of big group dinners have it rough. The individual is subjected to the whims of 5 to 15 people or more, often on an email chain where the last suggestion paired with a witty retort or clever anecdote about the level of attractiveness of the staff at such-and-such restaurant wins. Well, screw it. If you volunteer to organize a group/birthday/going away/welcome home dinner, use this new fool-proof method and eliminate haggling amongst potential dinner-goers. It’s not complicated. It’s a lottery, but unlike the New York state variety or credit card roulette, in this game of chance everyone wins. Write down each restaurant on the list below on a separate piece of paper, shuffle ’em around, and pull from a hat. First restaurant wins. It’s not complicated, it’s just science. Bon chance!

Bacaro Sit in the cavernous basement wine cellar for a candle lit evening that’ll mask the group’s escalating inebriation. Make a private party reservation if you have a large group and get your own Phantom of the Opera-inspired room.

Abe & Arthurs Sure, it’s a little sceney, but the menu is pretty easy for everyone. They have Spinach & Artichoke dip, fish, pork, steak and pasta, and salads for girls who don’t eat. It’s also a one-stop shop in that you can take the crew directly downstairs to SL. Just remember, no physical activity for 30 min after eating.

Scuderia Let’s face it, Da Silvano is for your parent’s friends. But during the summer, the outdoor sidewalk seating just crushes it (in terms of awesome-ness). Scuderia has a younger vibe and your friends will thank you after a night of 6th Avenue people watching and catching up.

Gemma Easy to book a biggun’ as long as you plan ahead. They’ll forget the ‘no reservations’ policy if you have a group of 12 or more, and they prefer to arrange a prix fixe menu for you and the gang.

The Smith East Village American Brasserie with a photo booth in back! Just in case you get bored with the seating arrangement.

Barbuto Groups of ten or more can reserve the kitchen table and sample the chef’s tasting menu. Way cooler than the way the proletariat does it.

Freemans Reservations for 6 or more, and nothing says celebration like escaping the city rush up Freemans Alley and stepping into Narnia/Hogwarts/The Wardrobe/Whatever mythical realm you prefer.

Dumont For groups up to 15, the Williamsburg hotspot reserves the breathtaking terrace, and if you’re smart, you’ll request the ‘treehouse’, that rises above the garden and gives your party a little more privacy.

Los Feliz Tri-level taquería has plenty of room to accommodate your rowdy group, plus their lounge stays open until 4am, so the odds of getting kicked out early are nearly impossible. There are also 150 tequilas in stock here, in case you want to set some sort of record.

Alta The seasonal tapas menu is extensive, and there’s no food envy as everything’s share-able. If you’re feeling aggressive, order “the whole shebang” for $420. It is one of everything on the menu, and no one will go home hungry. Request the upstairs area through the kitchen for super secluded private dining.