Covers Triumph Over Classics at Morrissey’s Madison Square Garden Performance

Once the enigmatic frontman for the Smiths turned even more enigmatic solo act, Morrissey has become quite the peculiar case study over the last few years. From spats with his record label to making some less than savory political remarks, Morrissey fandom can at times feel more like a chore and less like an act of leisure. Sometimes it feels more appropriate to quit bobbing along to “Low in High School” and do a face-palm instead.

Thankfully, where there’s struggle, there’s also a reassuring constant. When you go to a Morrissey show, there’s going to be a beyond generous outpouring of passion, and that’s just what poured out of the sea of Moz fans who jam-packed the hallowed halls of the Theater at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 2, eager to get a glimpse of the musician who fashioned the soundtrack to their adolescent angst.

In the decades since Morrissey rose through the ranks with The Smiths and later with his tumultuous solo career, his voice remains as full-bodied as ever, his signature baritone resonating throughout MSG’s theatre and leaving no soul untouched. He even kicked off his set with an homage to another legendary baritone, covering Elvis Presley’s “You’ll Be Gone.” Sure, some of the younger fans in attendance might not have recognized that proverbial tip of the cap, but then again their formerly Smiths-obsessed parents probably dragged them there without any context anyway.

Although he laid his newer fare on a little thick, fans were still pretty receptive to Morrissey’s set, a bit of a surprise considering his new album, “Low in High School,” is full of controversial comments that are cringeworthy at best and his previous album, 2014’s “World Peace is None of Your Business,” disappeared from streaming services before most fans got a chance to listen to it at all. Although songs like “I Wish You Lonely,” “Spent The Day in Bed,” “My Love, I’d Do Anything for You” and a combination of “Who Will Protect Us from the Police” and “The Bullfighter Dies” received modest applause, it was abundantly clear that fans were there for the classics, a whim to which Morrissey barely catered. Sure, his opening jaunt led gracefully into the anthemic “I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish,” and his encore featured a double dose of Moz nostalgia with “Suedehead” and Smiths cut “Shoplifters of the World Unite,” the latter of which he used to take aim at the president, the middle of the set felt, well, middling. People remained rooted to their seats, however, clearly convinced that a run to fetch more beer or to the bathroom would result in them missing their favorite song.

One thing that came out of Morrissey’s New York show is definitive proof that the man needs to come out with a cover album, and soon. Aside from his show-opening Elvis cover, he tackled The Pretenders’ “Back on the Chain Gang” with incredible results. He even sang an a cappella rendition of David Cassidy’s “I Think I Love You” before laughingly confessing he didn’t know all the words. He was, thankfully, in giddy spirits for this show, and that’s not something that can be said about the man often, which is why it was so uplifting to watch him bring up a fan for a honest-to-God embrace before he finally left the stage. A show that started strong ended strong, and fans poured out of the venue having long forgotten the sagging middle.

Morrissey performed Dec. 2 at the Theater at Madison Square Garden.