I saw the Mancunian miserablist in 2002 in Sydney and no one batted much of an eyelid; I saw Mozza two years later in London, fresh from the acclaim of You Are The Quarry, and numerous men (no women) of a certain age (my age) clambered ungainly on to the stage in a frenzied fashion – knowing they'd be ejected from the arena if they did – to touch the hem of this sullen man's finely-tailored garments.
Lord knows what he'd been up to during his lost seven years or so. Hurling cashew nuts at sun-kissed lovers in Venice Beach maybe? Who knows? But the Moz revival and general love-in is, amazingly, growing (despite his alleged comments to the NME about immigration), as evidenced by this packed venue and the football chants of "Morrissey, Morrissey" by the youthful, predominantly white crowd last night. "Good evening, West Ham," the gloomy bard quipped back at the chants.
Last night, at the start of his heady six-day residency, the sour-faced iconoclast looked like a portly Carphone Warehouse regional manager with his smart blue tie. He swiftly and wisely ditched the tie after a resounding, pounding performance of the sublime lament, "How Soon Is Now?". After another cracking number, "First Of The Gang To Die", a shirt button went too.
The fans might be a tad more restrained than in the past – there was a bit of civilised surging towards the stage – but there was still an edge of frenzy. Not bad for the 48-year-old grumbler, who is as much an English eccentric as Alan Bennett, his hero, and the Kens, Russell and Livingstone. He's still a devil at snapping that microphone cord and he still does that funny, child-like flinging motion with the mic, like hurling a tea towel over a washing line. He's also still a great moaner, "my name is trouble, I believe," he said, referencing the recent NME furore.
Although he claimed to have a "frog in his throat," his distinctive, shrill voice was in fine fettle, wrapping itself wonderfully around the Smiths anthem, "Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before". However, like his tummy, there was a lot of what felt like filler and dreaded "new material", the highlight of which was "Something Is Squeezing My Skull", a New York Dolls-like punk thrash about. There was also the rather boorish "Life Is A Pigsty" from his 2006 album, Ringleader Of The Tormentors. A bit more of the Smiths wouldn't have gone amiss. They were a whole different kettle of beautiful gloom. If there's one band that everyone wants (and will never get) to reform it's the Smiths. Watching combatants Marr and Morrissey together would be something to see. Moz's backing band were more than adequate and Matt Watson on drums and the gong was superb, but they lack Marr's dense, wonderful otherworldly sound.
He ended with "Irish Blood, English Heart", the most compelling song from You Are The Quarry and the anthem "The Last Of The International Playboys". They received the most manic response of the night, with men flinging themselves through the crowd to reach their messiah, who, in turn, ended up flinging off his shirt. It was rousing, but I can't help feeling that, well, I still love you but slightly less than I used to.