Morrissey, SECC, Glasgow
Thursday 16 December 2004
If there's one thing the boy Stephen Patrick Morrissey has been teaching us for years now, it's that there was plenty to be scared of about the Eighties. The annals of popular music record that it was a time of council-estate upbringings, bad-weathered inertia and a 10-year kick in the groin for the common man, with only the most garishly self-conscious of what passes for popular culture to keep the troubles at bay. Heaven help anyone, those in years to come may muse as they download a Mike Leigh classic from the net, who had to live through that.
On the other hand, they might familiarise themselves with the recorded oeuvre of Morrissey, and imagine those days as a soggy-haired, slate-skied era of romance and underdog achievement. For he sums up every possible description of the era - transforming his own frustrated, archly sarcastic teen angst into a uniquely timeless symphony.
He was the bespectacled boy in his bedroom, awkwardly poring over his own doubts about love, life and, essentially, other people. He was also the consummate entertainer, the strutting stagesmith venting his spleen masterfully with the Smiths, while no doubt imagining himself the perfect hybrid of Terence Stamp and Oscar Wilde. Which, to be fair, he both was and is, a peculiar mix of candid kitchen-sink honesty and superstar unattainability which legions of fans found irresistible.
As the disembodied Scouse voice of Margi Clarke booms out a litany of the Eighties' greatest horrors at this show's beginning, then - "the poll tax", "Hillsborough", "Stock, Aitken and Waterman" - it's tempting to imagine the gloom riding over the horizon. Yet 14 years have passed for Morrissey as well as everyone else, and it's a subtly different character who stands before us at the climax of the year's most welcome comeback.
The 20ft-high letters that spell out his name behind him signal the star's sly approval at the cultive personality which follows him; the black shirt and white dog collar brand him a preacher of Irish Catholic descent; the stunning opening wail of "How Soon is Now?" tacit acceptance of his legacy. "How are you?'' asks a fan up the front excitedly. "I'm as well as can be expected, I suppose'', the neutral reply. "Some things never change, eh?'' Indeed they do not. Like the unanimously ecstatic response to a deluge of old favourites such as "Bigmouth Strikes Again", "Shoplifters of the World Unite", "There is a Light That Never Goes Out" and - from the solo years - "The More You Ignore Me, the Closer I Get".
It's this year's smaller-scale autumn tour writ even more epic for the arena setting, and his excellent band don't let him down once - that this year's "Irish Blood, English Heart" and "I Have Forgiven Jesus" join the canon so effortlessly is testament to good quality control. Then a mournful "Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me" and he's off - a self-made man, ironically, that Thatcher may have been proud of. But one who only sustains the position through unflinching honesty.
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