Morrissey | MEN Arena | Manchester | 20 August 2016

An evening with Morrissey...

It's Saturday night in Manchester and if you ask any of the devotees and acolytes that have been queuing for many hours to secure a prime position close to the stage what the hottest ticket in town is and you'll get a one word answer - Morrissey. Tonight, for one night only, Morrissey descended on the UK for his only show in the country this year and his first in the city since 2012. Unsurprisingly, it's a big deal. There had been rumours that the show had not sold out, but in fact the MEN Arena looked to be packed to the top of the upper tiers despite the high ticket price - an eye-watering price of £71.50 to stand.

A Morrissey show is a ritual - it begins with his pre-show video of favourite artists and actors, old comedians and clips from black and white movies. As the film ends and the woman on screen screams, the curtain drops, the drum salvo from "The Queen Is Dead" booms out, the crowd roars and there he is launching into the opening lines of "Suedehead" - "Why do you come here, and why do you hang around. It’s a perfect opening and cheeky gambit and there was a nice hometown lyric change too - "You had to sneak into my room, just to see the Stretford gloom".

He proved to be in good humour from the off and looked genuinely abashed at his reception, covering his face with his hands and greeting the audience with "I am the new Lord Mayor of Manchester" to cheers and laughter. He’d return to that topic later in the show, dissing Andy Burnham and wondering why someone local couldn’t do the job wondering where Alf Roberts was when you need him.

In contrast to the band, who were dressed in dark trousers and white shirts, Morrissey wore a dark jacket, an unbuttoned to the waist blue shirt displaying a large crucifix and jeans adorned with fobs and chains as he whipped his mic cord about the stage. During "Alma Matters" he stretched perilously across the pit through the gladioli to touch hands with fans. Superb performances of “All You Need Is Me” and “You Have Killed Me” followed, then on to “Ganglord” during which the screens showed graphic police brutality.

There was a raucous “Speedway” and an atmospherically lit "Jack The Ripper" during which Morrissey and band disappeared into the billowing smoke on stage as effectively as they would have done in a Victorian pea-souper. Indeed Morrissey was true to form throughout the evening: funny, contrary, provocative – whether displaying images of William and Kate on the screens during “The World Is Full Of Crashing Bores”, or apologising to those located in the outer reaches of the arena “Who are watching me on the big screen because I usually don't look this bad. I usually look much worse, so count yourselves lucky that tonight is a good night".

Introducing “World Peace Is None of Your Business” he offered “Sportswomen do not start wars, sportsmen do not start wars, hairdressers do not start wars, cows do not start wars, badgers do not start wars, politicians start wars, and they love it”. No stranger to health scares himself he lamented the loss of talent during the year name-checking Caroline Aherne, Victoria Wood and Prince among others as being taken too soon.

The graphic “Meat is Murder” video that plays as a backdrop during Morrissey's performance featuring animal slaughter is gruesome beyond words but ultimately that is the point - some issues perhaps do need to be bludgeoned home and if the harrowing footage and the message “Meat is Murder, What’s Your Excuse Now?” that hangs on the screen doesn’t make you reconsider your choices then little will.

For the encore he reappeared in a red shirt commenting that years ago he released a song describing that he was dreaming of a time when the English would be sick to death of Labour and Tories and that now in 2016, "They are!" before adding "Whatever happens, I love you!" The version of "Irish Blood, English Heart" that followed was terrific, the crowd bellowing the lyrics back at Morrissey who, as the climax approached, tore off the shirt, swung it around before tossing it into the crowd where it was ceremoniously ripped to shreds. No doubt the pieces are already safely ensconced in pride of place in various Morrissey shrines.

“Meat Is Murder” and “What She Said” proved the only dips into The Smiths archive, and none of the new material he has reportedly recorded was aired but it mattered not as the set list had something to please any Morrissey fan. We’ve had intimations previously that this date or that tour may be his last, but based on last night’s triumphant show in Manchester let’s pray these are nothing but false alarms.

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