The toast(ed teacake) of Tinseltown comes home. DVD to follow

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A Quiff Of Nostalgia

Morrissey

THE M.E.N.ARENA, MANCHESTER

Saturday May 22, 2004

As an entrance, it’s unbeatable. A synth drone and a disembodied voice in the dark, in eerie helium-Scouse. A litany of Morrissey horrors from the decade he once dubbed the “19 Haties”: from the Royal Family and Stock, Aitken & Waterman to “gut-wrenching disappointment” and “racist” (“Imperfect List” by Big Hard Excellent Fish). Then he saunters on, Armani’d to the hilt and framed by 12ft-high Morrissey letters flashed in red Vegas bulbs, and launches into Sinatra’s “My Way”. It could just as easily be “All Of Me”. Or “I Believe”. As comebacks go, it makes Lazarus look lame.

To the facts. The man’s first hometown gig in 12 years. A 15,000-strong crowd that sold out in just over an hour. Back in the UK Top 10 for the first time in a decade with “Irish Blood, English Heart”. New album You Are The Quarry?his first since 1997?on the eve of topping the charts after years without a deal. Oh, and his 45th birthday. It doesn’t take a leap of romantic imagination to believe that all the tangled strands of Morrissey’s life finally come together on such a night. As ever, though, it’s not quite so straightforward.

For all his perceived victimisation?a siege mentality borne of 1992’s critical backlash, further entrenched in LA exile by collapsed record companies and bitter court cases?post-millennium Moz remains hard to love. There’s a preening narcissism, a touch of the precious, to the way he handles the adoration tonight. He’s evidently moved by the terrace chants, but there’s also a sense of the expected, too, like anything less just won’t do. We’re in superstar territory and he presumes you know it. There’s even a point near the close (straight after the gorgeous “I’m Not Sorry” from the new album, complete with depth-charge blips) where, the throng having failed to spontaneously erupt into “Happy Birthday”, he decides to mention it himself. When they do start up, the mock humility (“Who? ME?”) sums him up tonight: a big hunk o’ ’68 Elvis, a Johnnie Ray teardrop, a titter of Frankie Howerd.

Despite a midway sag?”Let Me Kiss You”, “Jack The Ripper” and Raymonde’s “No One Can Hold A Candle To You” indicate a workmanlike band rather than an inspired one?the show is extraordinary. Of the robust new weaponry, “First Of The Gang To Die” and “Irish Blood, English Heart” are the howitzers, especially the latter, with its sniping riposte to those who branded him a bigot after the notorious Union Jack incident at Madstock ’92. For the record, he does unfurl the flag tonight, but it’s an Irish tricolour. “How Can Anybody Possibly Know How I Feel?” typifies the embattled approach, flexing with tartly mischievous wisdom. After a glorious “I Know it’s Gonna Happen Someday”, he offers: “I can’t believe I’m 29. Where did the years go? WHY did the years go?”

Of course, the great paradox of the stadium-busting Morrissey of ’04 is evident whenever he treads Smiths turf. There?and on early solo volleys circa “Everyday Is Like Sunday”, here prefixed by The New York Dolls’ “Subway Train”?he was writing for himself, but expressing the damp desire of an entire generation of teenage flotsam. Today it’s much the same, but how many can relate to the English-as-Eccles ex-pat in Carole Lombard’s Hollywood gaff, singing of gold discs, spiteful critics and custody of his millions? As inspired as You Are The Quarry may be, it’s often an exclusive experience.

“The Headmaster Ritual” is the first Smiths song he covers tonight. Truly stupendous it is, too, Boz Boorer picking out Marr’s circular arpeggios admirably. Morrissey gives a wry smile afterwards: “The past never dies.” The quasi-rockabilly of “Rubber Ring” swings neatly, “A Rush And A Push And The Land Is Ours” slaps hard and, by the time he finishes with “Shoplifters Of The World Unite”, there’s a discernible peeling back of the years. In contrast to the pristine-suited measure of his entrance, he’s now unbuttoned, tucked half-in, half-out and dripping with abandon.

Sidling back on for an encore of “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out”, he nearly tears the roof off the sucker. “Thanks,” he says, for once sounding entirely natural. “You’ve made a happy man very old. Whatever happens now, please don’t forget me.”