First Night: Morrissey, Salford Lowry, Manchester

Lad from Salford makes passionate return to home turf
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The Independent Culture

There should be no controversy after Cabaret Morrissey took a bow. The last time he played his home city, Salford, that is, as opposed to its larger neighbour, Stephen Morrissey made the front pages of the Manchester Evening News. Looking out from the stage at Old Trafford cricket ground, he had pointed out locations related to his early years.

There was the bowling alley where he tried to book his glam-punk heroes, the New York Dolls, and his school, adding that an especially despised member of staff had passed away before he sang "Headmaster's Ritual", a classic from his former group The Smiths. Maybe he had forgotten how parochial the city was, but the next day news stands cried something like "Mozza Dead Head Shock".

So this return to old stamping grounds was keenly anticipated, even before the arrival of his stunning new album Ringleader Of The Tormentors. If 2004's You Are The Quarry, his first for seven years, made for a welcome comeback, its successor is a definite return to form not experienced since the mid-90s. Fittingly, tonight's venue was a sign of Salford's renaissance. The derelict docks had been transformed into Manchester's cultural quarter with the confident, modern shapes of the nearby war museum and this arts complex named after another of Salford's famous sons. "So, this must be Salford," was Morrissey's typically dry response.

Nor does Morrissey feel nostalgia for his past. Most of the set was gleaned from his last two albums, though without the most-talked-about track from the current release, "Dear God, Please Help Me", where he declaims "Now I'm spreading your legs, with mine in between". After spending years of coyness and nothing but chaste love songs, his words had become frank and physical.

Still, the likes of "You Have Killed Me" hinted at renewed passion for life, while Mozza himself sang with conviction. It was the sound of someone who had enjoyed the early spring in his new home, Rome. The English eccentric's previous residence, Los Angeles, always seemed an odd choice, even if he could enjoy privacy and tea with Nancy Sinatra.

Dressed in all-black attire he may have been, but this was no funeral. Morrissey has aged well, his voice taking on a resonant burr, just as grey hair distinguishes his quiff. "Welcome to a night of torment," he announced, before the edgy-yet-fluid guitar of "Still Ill". One of his earliest songs, admittedly, but redolent of current concerns. "Does the body rule the mind, or does the mind rule the body?" he asked, a retort to critics that thought they knew the score.

Even without the complexities of Tony Visconti's production, new songs revealed the strident immediacy of Morrissey's finest solo work. His long-suffering backing band was still limited by their devotion to rockabilly, yet "The Youngest Was The Most Loved" still hits home as a fantastic single. Furthermore, while Morrissey has often been accused of glamorising violence, this was a compelling tale of a killer's gestation.

At first, the tinny keyboard was little compensation for Ringleader's orchestration. At least guitarist Jesse Tobias added sparkle to sumptuous torch song "To Me You Are A Work Of Art". Then all the band came together to replicate the Middle Eastern prog rock grandeur of "I Will See You In Far Off Places", one guy playing trumpet, accordion and keys in the same number.

If Mozza has found belated happiness, he hid it well as he picked petty grievances with Radio One for not playing his single and Bono for beating him in a poll.

"How Soon Is Now" was a reminder of past glories, two guitarists recreating the majesty of Johnny Marr, while Morrissey's flamboyant performance ensured the number remained vital. As entertainer, rather than combatant, he proved he has relevance still.

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