I honestly don’t know why I’d never been to Rosario before.
My best guess is there’s something about living in a sprawling metropolis like Buenos Aires that insulates you from other cities in the country, or at least those that don’t offer something entirely different. Bariloche, for example, or Cordoba or Mendoza, are Argentinean cities with very clearly defined identities, that are different enough from the vastness of Buenos Aires that the novelty beckons you to them. Rosario was never like that for me. Of course, I can only speak for myself, but other than being the “cradle of the Argentine flag” and also the birthplace of El Ché Guevara (neither of which are particularly exciting to me), there was really nothing about it that made me want to visit, even the glowing reviews from others who had. It just seemed like any other city I would probably never set foot in, a grey concrete jungle without a discernible personality.
When Morrissey announced his tour of South America, it was immediately obvious that I would see him. I’ve been a fan of his for as long as I can remember (as you can probably tell from the several posts in which I cite a song of his or The Smiths) and it’d be a slap in the face of my 16-year-old self if I didn’t put in the effort to catch one of the shows. Interestingly, four of the dates were actually across different cities in Argentina, so I had my pick; my friend Magu suggested foregoing the Buenos Aires show and instead heading out to Rosario. The venue was smaller and we could make a weekend trip out of it. Never having seen Rosario, I shrugged and agreed. We booked a room at a hostel, bought bus tickets and things quickly fell into place for our Morrissey-themed road trip 180 miles northeast of Buenos Aires.
Our friend Nacho (yes, “Nacho” is a fairly common monicker in Argentina, short for Ignacio, and yes, I’ve long stopped giggling about it) was to meet us there after the first day, so Magu, Leticia and myself took the five-hour bus ride over to Rosario. Seemed inordinately long for the distance actually traveled, but it allowed for some much-needed sleep. The entertainment in the bus was, oddly enough, a live Shakira DVD (a particularly over-the-top performance), followed by Terminator 4: Salvation (which was every bit as uninteresting as I imagined it would be) and half of Ratatouille.
We booked a room at the Rosario Inn, a very nicely situated hostel near the heart of Rosario and just a few blocks away from the Monumento a la Bandera. Any time I stay in a hostel for any period of time, I can’t help but be reminded of my epic stay in the Km0 Hostel in Buenos Aires. The hostel that saw me arriving wide-eyed and terrified, where I met a lot of colorful characters and cemented by decision to stay in this sprawling, beautiful mess of a city. That hostel, which is sadly closing its doors soon, had a very friendly environment to it; it felt very much like a family, by virtue of its owners and the regulars– the cast of hostel mainstays who were staying there for more than a couple of weeks. So I think whenever I enter a new hostel, I look for that sort of dynamic, perhaps subconsciously. In the case of the Rosario Inn, while the staff were friendly and obliging and the accommodations were pretty adequate, the disconnect came from the irritable, grumbling, cliquey group of people staying there. While not everybody was like this (we befriended an affable Brazilian photographer), most of the guests seemed to be part of this group of surly assholes.
Rosario itself is gorgeous. A beautiful little gem of a city that’s like a clean version of the nicer parts of Buenos Aires. The people were nice, the ladies were top-shelf (it’s said that Rosarinas are the prettiest women in the country– and while I haven’t quite seen all of it, I am inclined to agree). Every place we visited was brimming with charm. We walked the city streets up and down, got lost several times like tourists are bound to do. We saw the sights, we took pictures, we wondered out loud how it was that we missed the slice of awesomeness that is this city. We tourist-ed ourselves to exhaustion.
The show was a treat from top to bottom. It was held at a smaller venue than I expected, and certainly smaller than the venue he was playing in Buenos Aires. We were up front just a few feet from the stage and got there fairly early, which was wonderful as we got to experience an absolutely delightful opening set by experimental dissonant-pop singer-songwriter (and seamstress extraordinaire) Kristeen Young.
A petite lady with a mighty voice, Kristeen stood by herself behind her keyboard and an assortment of gadgets for most of the songs, occasionally grabbing the microphone and stepping out onto the stage. She blasted out tunes that shook you to the bone; angular, dissonant piano blasts, four-octave voice acrobatics and arrangements that transcended mere cleverness. She was fascinating to watch, too; twisting and turning and dancing around like the serpentine melodies in her slightly demented pop songs. I started a bit of a skeptic and, after her (all too brief) set, was a convert. The moment she thanked the audience and unplugged her own gear to walk off-stage, I was endeared to the point of fandom. I am now making my way through her discography in iTunes, and will write more about her as I discover the treasures in her back catalogue.
After Kristeen wrapped up, we were treated to a video compilation of vintage performances from artists such as Nico and The New York Dolls. After a few minutes, Morrissey materialized on the stage, with a perfectly coiffed head of hair, a blue shirt and with his band wearing matching “NME is SHIT” t-shirts. After a few seconds of a particularly awkward greeting in Spanish, they jumped into a rousing performance of “First of the Gang to Die”, and the countdown was on for the first shirt change of the night.
Though the sound in the venue was less than ideal (it was by no means bad, but it did seem a bit muddy at times; this, coupled with the Argentinean propensity to sing every word and every musical line of every single song, made for the first few songs to be a bit of a wash), Morrissey and his band delivered a great performance. I was surprised by how muscular his band sounded, injecting a certain punch into some of the more maudlin numbers that were not there in their original versions. Morrissey was in fine voice the whole way through, resulting remarkably little to his Morrisey-isms (the random “lalalaalala”s, the disruptive speaking-in-tongues that slips into some of his live performances as a way to mask his vocal shortcomings). And he wasn’t the crotchety performer I imagined he would be; in fact, he was quite friendly with the audience, appearing to enjoy himself with every song.
The setlist has come into some criticism by people who were under the impression they were going to see a Smiths show. Fuck them. Morrissey’s solo discography may not be quite as flawless as his work with Johnny Marr, but it’s still littered with gems. Highlights were powerful performances of “Speedway” (in which he incorporated lines from “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”) and “You Have Killed Me”, as well as a show-stopping new arrangement of Smiths classic “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want”.
It was a great show, if a bit brief. I sang out loud to every song, and was hit with the realization that, in a way, hearing these songs live after all these years felt like a strange kind of closure. No, I’m not going to stop listening to Morrissey or The Smiths– hell, it’s all I’ve listened to since the concert– but it did feel like the closing of a chapter that had remained incomplete in my life.
I don’t know quite how to put it into words, but I’ll try: there was a moment during “I Know it’s Over”– a staple in my high school playlists– in which I felt thoroughly vindicated. Like every little bit of grief and sadness and isolation I used to associate that song with now felt like battle scars from a war I won many years ago. Singing along to these songs, with thousands of people in the audience, the way my life has turned out and the people I’ve surrounded myself with… “if you’re so funny, then why are you on your own tonight?” is no longer met with a grimace, like it did when I was a teenager. Now it’s met with a knowing smirk.
And I’ll continue to sing these songs, loud and proud, because they really were there for me. They really did save my life. They really were the only ones who ever stood by me. And thank goodness for that.