New York City living, with its ever-expanding list of options, presents a reoccurring problem: What to do when you need or want to be in two places at once? Given the opportunity to see both legendary crooner Morrissey at Webster Hall for free and up-and-coming hype bands the Grates and Micachu & the Shapes for free, what does one do? Well, if you have experience covering festivals like CMJ, and enough money for cab fare, you do both.
Starting out at Webster Hall, the end of the set by openers the Courteeners was unsurprisingly Smiths-ish. At any other time and place, that might be perfectly fine, but as an opener for Morrissey? Who wants processed cheese when you can have cheddar?
Morrissey warmed the crowd up, once again, with a series of old video clips before his set. When the curtain dropped and the pompadoured singer took the stage, he asked, “I just have one soul searching question to ask you: Where the hell am I?” before jumping into Brooklyn bar dance hit, “This Charming Man.”
But, sadly enough, the same people that will likely bust a move to the song when it comes on at their local bar were noticeably less rapturous than the average Morrissey fanboy crowd. Were people there to say they saw Morrissey at a smaller venue than he usually plays, or where they simply there to see him?
Morrissey, however, was up to his normal tricks, casting shirts into the audience, whipping the mic around, brushing back his hair, and interjecting an air of mystery between songs with statements like, “I am a myth.” The set list was full of standard fare – “How Soon Is Now?” “Irish Blood, English Heart” “Billy Budd” – all of which were as aggressive as Morrissey has ever been, with the help of his current backing band. But lest we forget his reputation as the International Man of Misery, there was “Let Me Kiss You,” and “Seasick, Yet Still Docked” to tug at the heartstrings. (See below for a video of “Seasick, Yet Still Docked” from this show.)
Unfortunately, as he began mid-set standard “The Loop,” a cab and Piano’s were beckoning…
Arriving at Piano’s, the post-SXSW hype was in full effect, as I was turned away – despite having a ticket – because the venue was at full capacity. I was finally allowed in, but curiosity begs the question, was there anyone who paid and didn’t get in at all? Would Piano’s offer a refund in that instance? But why oversell to begin with?
Luckily, I caught the Australian four-piece (they’re technically a trio, but had a keyboardist in tow) in time to hear “Milk Eyes,” a serious power pop jam that front-woman Patience Hodgson said is, “about babies,” though it makes for a great love song in general, “You know I’m never gonna turn you away / you know I’m never gonna give you no pain / Even if I could, yeah, even though I would / even though my friends all say that I should.”
There’s nothing ground-breaking about the music, but what it lacks in inventiveness it makes up for in pure fun. The Grates are the rock and roll show done right. Hodgson can switch in and out of flinging herself around stage one moment and flirting with audience members the next. At some point, she sang a song from atop the shoulders of a man in the crowd, while twirling around a purple ribbon. Show closer “Burn Bridges” is a fist pumper with a hand-clapping, chanting heart, “Spent time making trouble, doing the right thing / Spent time making trouble, what’s the sum of everything.”
The Grates were followed by Micachu & the Shapes, coming off SXSW coverage over-saturation. Though there wasn’t anything wrong with their show, there wasn’t necessarily anything right with it, either. Their heavy, noise pop came off as muddled, chaotic, jumbled. There are bands that make you wonder if they’re really trying to do something different, or if they’re just fucking around, and Micachu & the Shapes are one of those bands, proving it’s not always smarter to do something that’s never been done – sometimes it’s best to just be memorable, a lesson it seems the Grates have already learned.
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Morrissey: “Seasick, Yet Still Docked,” live @ Webster Hall, March 25th