Don’t get too upset when you read the reviews for tonight,” Morrissey told the audience midway through the opening night of his (very short) European tour. “Because you know they have to be bad. You know they have to be snotty and snooty. That’s the way of the world. They’ve already been written.”
Steven Patrick Morrissey has made life hard for us reviewers. His barrage of pronouncements in recent years are too legion to list, but they include swipes at the Chinese, defences of individuals accused of sexual abuse, and sympathy for groups such as the For Britain party and the English Defence League.
Still, did he really think we wouldn’t be prepared to cast an objective eye on his music? This is the man who, as lead singer of The Smiths, was the undisputed king of bedroom melodrama and crafted some of the finest music of the 1980s. And after the band imploded in 1987, the Mancunian retained his status as the eloquent bard of the dispossessed. Love him or hate him, the 60-year-old is a towering figure in British music.
Morrissey was, in fact, well-behaved on stage in Leeds, making only minor digs at radio stations for ignoring his new music and mock-sneezing over the crowd as some kind of comment on coronavirus. The band were tight, the sound meaty, Morrissey’s vocals rich.
That said, the set-list was baffling. Morrissey played five cover versions (he released a covers album last year), three new songs and four from his 2017 album Low in High School. Solo favourites such as Suedehead, Everyday is Like Sunday, First of the Gang to Die and anything from his career-high album Vauxhall & I were nowhere to be found. The evening already felt tentative: the only northern show of his tour – to be fair, there’s only one southern date too – should have been rammed, but it wasn’t sold out.
Another performer might have used the show to dust off some classics, just to prove the naysayers wrong. But that’s not Morrissey’s way. In blazer, loose slacks and Cuban heels, he opened with Elvis’s You’ll Be Gone, while Smiths classic The Boy with the Thorn in His Side was an early highlight. Munich Air Disaster 1958 was a moving tribute to Manchester United’s fallen players, and Jack the Ripper saw him prowl the stage, his T-shirt torn to the waist, as dry ice closed in.
It was curious that he didn’t play his brilliantly bonkers new song Bobby, Don’t You Think They Know?, on which Motown legend Thelma Houston sings. Instead he opted for the more pedestrian Love is on the Way Out. And the encore of The Smiths’ Half a Person, with its lyrics about being “16, clumsy and shy” and arriving in London, was swooning and moving. But it only served to highlight what was missing.
By the closing track, Irish Blood, English Heart, Morrissey was topless and the intensity had risen, but you don’t have to be “snotty or snooty” to identify a missed opportunity. “Don’t forget that perversity is our strength,” Morrissey said at the end.
Touring until March 14. Tickets: morrisseyofficial.com