Morrissey, Leeds, First Direct Arena

Belligerent business as usual

Before a swooning version of ‘I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris’, Morrissey arches an eyebrow so high it practically nudges the Gods. “I can’t in my wildest dreams – and my dreams are very wild – imagine anyone being inspired by or interested in the next British election. We are all screwed,” he booms.

It’s a gallery-playing proclamation that elicits cheers from his flock – an inter-generational mixture of the notoriously fanatical Moz Army mingling with mums and dads and their teenage kids. Despite this being as close the 55-year-old will come to a hometown show on this tour, it isn’t sold out and the air is thick with concern. Given his ongoing health worries – 10 days prior to tonight’s gig he axed a date in Holland due to flu – the chatter among the masses gathered in Leeds is that this could represent his swansong.

But such worries are instantly washed away when Morrissey strides out, beams “the pleasure, the privilege is mine” and launches into an incendiary opening of ‘The Queen Is Dead’ (in front of a Photoshopped image of Her Maj raising two middle fingers) and ‘Suedehead’, his baritone undiminished, accompanied by a backing band going hell for (vegan) leather. He seems invigorated, stretching to touch every fan who crowdsurfs to the front, apparently gratified as they celebrate, hands aloft, as if they’ve scored the winning goal at the World Cup.

The setlist is heavily skewed towards material from last year’s critic-answering album ‘World Peace Is None Of Your Business’. He shakes maracas during ‘Staircase At The University’, a tale of the suicide of an exam-pressured overworked daughter, accompanied by joyous flamenco guitars and blaring trumpets. ‘Kiss Me A Lot’ too, is tinged with flamenco flourishes. The world music theme of the record even extends to a mariachi rework of ‘First Of The Gang To Die’, from 2004’s ‘You Are The Quarry’.

Moz’s recent flirtations with mortality lend lines like “I have no use for tomorrow” (from ‘One Of Our Own’) a portentous quality. Torch anthem ‘Trouble Loves Me’ – which tonight feels like his ‘My Way’ – is delivered with heartrending vigour, as he theatrically drops to his knees like a man savouring his final minutes on earth. The set storms to a magnificent close with ‘The World Is Full Of Crashing Bores’, ‘Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before’ and ‘Everyday Is Like Sunday’. Then, during ‘Meat Is Murder’, which bristles with righteous fury, 2011 animal cruelty documentary Farm To Fridge plays out on the screens, featuring an array of Disney-eyed animals being hacked at and eviscerated. As he departs, Morrissey appears full of aggression and confrontational spirit, and talk of retirement feels wildly premature. This is belligerent business as usual, and he’ll be back.