Battersea Power Station
When strides on-stage, you are struck by how little like he looks. It hasn't been easy being a fan of his in the Nineties, though at least there were some things you could always rely on. Like that majestic quiff. Or that spindly body crying out for carbohydrates. Small comforts, certainly, but comforts none the less in these times when the only way you can tell a single from a novelty record is that the novelty record gets higher in the charts.
At Battersea Power Station on Wednesday night, you withheld your applause until you were certain that this was really who you'd paid to see. The rampaging, sweaty buffalo of a man careering around the stage was not the we know. The quiff had been hacked to a stump. The physique suggested that he now does his moping around in the gymnasium rather than the library. What's more, he was positively jubilant. "Hello, you sexy Londoners!" he bellowed, and you thought: here's a man who has either got a new lease of life or too much sherry in his dressing room.
You only really recognised him when he began to - well, let's say move to the music rather than dance, since he always looks like he's dodging the blows of an invisible boxer as opposed to following any recognisable rhythms. But then the atmosphere at the most invigorating shows is always closer to that of a heavyweight bout than a rock gig. As usual, the most raucous cheers of the evening are reserved for those daring souls who scramble through the security guards and make it on-stage to touch their idol, or whisper career advice in his ear. It all feels rather quaint and polite these days, like an old episode of It's A Knockout in which the countries of Europe must compete to be the first to tug on what's left of 's quiff.
Most of the songs seem to have been chosen for their ability to concuss rather than caress the listener. There was half of this year's Maladjusted album, which was fine since only half of it is listenable. There were chunks from Vauxhall and I, his best album, and Southpaw Grammar, one of his worst. And there were squeals of pleasure as the guitarist Alain Whyte picked out the chiming opening chords of "Paint a vulgar picture", a Smiths number had never played live before. You sense that the past has always hung heavy over him, and introducing that song, he acknowledged this with a double-edged comment. "As some of you may know, I used to be the drummer in the Smiths", he deadpanned, and it took you a second to clock the irony: the real drummer had successfully sued earlier this year for unpaid royalties.
Despite such unpleasantness, managed a triumphant performance of the song, though at one point he curled up at the front of the stage, beating his wrists against his forehead, and it seemed obvious that he was being tormented by something more than just the guitar solo.Reuse content