Since signing to Sanctuary in 2004, Morrissey has rediscovered the drive and work ethic which made his former group, the Smiths, the most vital band of the Eighties and also characterised the first 10 years of his solo career. You are the Quarry and Ringleader of the Tormentors helped the iconic singer reconnect with the fan base of awkward indie fans who discovered him with gladioli sticking out of his back trouser pockets on Top of the Pops, and are now in their late thirties.
Steven Patrick Morrissey played 30 dates in the UK earlier this year, featured in a couple of V Festival appearances in the summer and has covered all bases in between - Greece, South America, the US but pointedly not seal-hunting Canada - and here he is again embarking on a run of British arena dates due to end with a couple of homecoming concerts in Manchester just before Christmas. Not that anyone is complaining if he remains on such sparkling form as on Saturday.
Opening with the Smiths' anthem "Panic" and its "hang the DJ" refrain is a masterstroke and a portent of things to come. Morrissey acknowledges his past but on his own terms, yet plays to his occasionally contrary strength. A twin salvo of "First of the Gang to Die" and "The Youngest was the Most Loved", recent hits undeniably joined at the hip, has the singer acting out the lyrics like the old-fashioned performer he can be.
Now 47, he is wearing a grey tie over a black shirt, while his crack band, all sporting blue waistcoats and trousers, look like they belong in a working men's club but prove anything but workmanlike. "The Rumba, the Conga, the Samba - they can play anything," he says, and introduces guitarist Boz Borrer, formerly of rockabilly revivalists the Polecats, bassist Gary Day, drummer Matt Chamberlain, and the two musicians who have helped him broaden his frame of musical references: lead guitarist Jesse Tobias and multi-instrumentalist Michael Farrell. Morrissey touches the fans' outstretched hands and swishes the microphone lead around like a lasso.
The band launches into the urgent jangle of "William, it was Really Nothing", another Smiths evergreen and model of economy. "Them was rotten days," he quips, though he must recognise that his other forays into his former group's cannon - "Girlfriend in a Coma", "How soon is Now" - draw the biggest cheers of the night apart from, possibly, "Every Day is like Sunday".
Now that we have 24 hours/seven day a week shopping, and all-day drinking, "Every Day is like Sunday" might be anachronistic but its majestic sweep still resonates with the fans, who recall the boredom and alienation of the late Eighties. "I really don't understand why you like me. I've never had a Brit award so I can't be much good," he bitches. Though, when he rips open his shirt in the middle of "Let me Kiss You", it is to roars of lustful approval. Lyrics like "if the USA doesn't bomb you, I believe I will see you somewhere safe" in the stately "I will see you in far off places" and references to Oliver Cromwell in "Irish Blood, English Heart" probably explain the establishment's wariness of an artist who tries to shake people out of their complacency. As if to emphasise his refusal to play by the rules, he ends with "National Front Disco", the much-misinterpreted track which caused a furore when he performed it draped in the Union Jack in 1992, but now seems oddly prescient.Reuse content