“I lust you, I lust you, I lust you,” says Morrissey, 56, as he arrives on to the Opera House stage to an ecstatic welcome, before launching into Suedehead, his first solo single from half a lifetime ago, as playful and as perfect an opener as you could wish.
If the last year or so has been somewhat chequered – a so-so album again, dropped by his record company again, tour-cancelling illness again – he looks healthy, slimmer and relaxed in silver-lined shirt and inevitable blue jeans. After 32 years of mass-participation adoration, an uneven but glorious bestselling autobiography, the man described, not unreasonably, in Bob Stanley’s Yeah Yeah Yeah as “the best lyricist British pop had ever produced” has plenty to bang on about and nothing to prove.
Here, for the first of four nights headlining the musical portion of the Vivid festival, he is warm and for the most part good-humoured; a mixture, like all good Morrissey shows and the Irish referendum, of 62% gay pride and 38% Catholic guilt.
Later, shortly before the encore, he builds to an ear-splitting Meat is Murder, replete with animal rights footage showing scenes from abattoirs and crowded fish tanks. As his always-muscular band crashes through to an unbearable end, Morrissey lies down on the stage and turns to the screen behind him, willing his audience to watch it.
There are clunky moments, for sure, not least during Stop Me if You’ve Heard This One Before, which merely confirms that his old songwriting partner Johnny Marr’s stunning late flowering as a solo artist has relegated Morrissey to the status of second-best Smiths cover band on the circuit; Marr plays the Enmore in the same city in July and if he chooses can sweep all before him with his version.
For all that, Morrissey’s take on What She Said is no slouch, and guitarists and more recent co-writers Boz Boorer and Jesse Tobias, and keyboardist Gustavo Manzur, know their band of brothers. Towards the end of an impressive Speedway, Manzur takes the vocals – with Morrissey hanging back by the keyboards and Boorer on drums – for a verse or two in Spanish. Perhaps the big revisionist reveal of the evening is how well that song and Now My Heart is Full, from the 1994 album Vauxhall and I, have stood up; time for a re-listen.
Of the new record, World Peace is None of Your Business, there is plenty. Kiss Me a Lot underlines what a full, powerful singer he has become, perhaps never stronger than lately. There are some chronic, crusty lyrics – “I was bored/in a fjord” on Scandinavia, some baffling international relations on Istanbul and on the title track which nonetheless features Manzur on a didgeridoo. Staircase at the University features an utterly life-affirming melodic line describing a student’s suicide triggered by academic pressure. Only Morrissey can do this. Only Morrissey should try.
“Is this Vivid enough for you?” he asks somewhat rhetorically about halfway through. “Thank Christ!” The show ends back at the first solo album, with Everyday is Like Sunday, an elated evocation of miserable English days in this most incongruous of venues.
The singer changes his shirt and flings it in to the audience to reveal a tanned torso. The front row bolts for a stage invasion, as if for old times’ sake. A slight woman gets through for a timid hug with her hero while the rest of the burly guys and girls are propelled back into a beatific crowd.
This article was written by Will Woodward, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 27th May 2015 06.04 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010