Morrissey returned home to Manchester on Saturday night for his only British show of 2016. His Manchester Arena concert was the first time he’s played in the city since 2012, after missing it out on last year’s ‘World Peace Is None Of Your Business’ world tour. While the iconic Smiths frontman is currently without a record deal, his large global fanbase remains loyal, with the Manchester show falling within another major tour taking him across Europe, North America, Asia and Australia until the end of November.
Introducing himself after an opening ‘Suedehead’ as “The new Lord Mayor of Manchester”. The role is playing on his mind tonight, later on he’ll clarify that he’s been thinking about “the new mayor of Manchester”, Labour MP Andy Burnham. “He’s very nice. He’s from Liverpool. Nobody asked me for my opinion… I just wonder why they didn’t find someone from Manchester.” Admit it, Moz, you’d love it.
Morrissey has spoken openly about being treated for cancer in recent years but he looked fighting fit on Saturday night, performing the first half of the concert bare chested beneath an unbuttoned black jacket. Concerning however is the bandage patch on his neck that appears to turn red with blood during the early part of the show, although it’s soon discarded with Morrissey apparently no worse for wear. “I would like to apologise to all the people who are watching me on the big screen,” he announces after ‘I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris'. “I don’t usually look this bad. I usually look much worse.”
The Latin American influence brought by multi-instrumentalist and keyboardist Gustavo Manzur, who gets several turns on the mic this evening, extends to Morrissey’s response to the crowd: he says “Gracias” far more often than “Thank you”. The Italian influence that took root in 2006’s ‘Ringleader Of The Tormentors’ peeks through in unexpected places too, with Morrissey lobbing lines from ancient Pat Boone hit ‘Quando Quando Quando’ into ‘Everyday Is Like Sunday’, to his own amusement at least.
Moz took time to pay tribute to a short roll call of recently departed heroes "in this year of the Reaper”: firstly, Manchester comedians Victoria Wood and Caroline Aherne, then Muhammad Ali and Prince. While a full acknowledgement of every notable death in 2016 would take most of the evening, the omission of old friend and tourmate David Bowie is a surprise.
Anti-cop diatribe ‘Ganglord’ (“Remember, the police can always be bribed”) is accompanied by a shocking compilation of clips showing American police brutality against the public (and largely against ethnic minorities), suspects in cells and even dogs. He doesn’t mention it explicitly but, taken along with the photo projected during ‘World Peace Is None Of Your Business’ of a black child with ‘Rise Up’ written on his palms, we can believe Morrissey has sympathy with the Black Lives Matter movement.
Returning to the stage for an encore of ‘Irish Blood, English Heart’, he turns his attention to British politics. “Many years ago I released a song and the lyrics were ‘I’ve been dreaming of a time when the English are sick to death of Labour and Tories’. And now in 2016, they are!”
As the prodigal son's triumphant return comes to a close, he continues with an enigmatic final statement, “Whatever happens, I love you.” Is this a warning of a final goodbye? With a new album potentially on the way, we certainly hope not.