Steven Patrick Morrissey takes to his stage with such presence and authority that it’s immediately clear why he has endured.
In front of a backdrop of a dashing young Richard Burton, he shakes hands with audience members over the barrier and swishes his snaking microphone lead to and fro – no WiFi nonsense for him – like a musical matador.
In blue trousers and a black shirt, he struts around the stage in proprietary fashion, launching first into The Last Of The Famous International Playboys. His square jaw and barrel chest testify to the passing of the years since 1983, when an effete young slip of a thing took to a stage and began to carve out his own iconography.
He has a greatest hits compilation due in spring and a new studio album set for autumn release. These six nights at Camden’s Roundhouse serve to outline the new album’s direction and delight in his extensive back catalogue, both of solo and Smiths material.
From Playboys he’s straight into How Soon Is Now, justifying the football terrace chants of “Morrissey, Morrissey, Morrissey” to the tune of “Here we go, here we go, here we go”. As lights and sound strobe and that guitar riff blasts, the crowd have already been given what they want. By the song’s end, Moz is prostrate and spotlit in front of the drums, demonstrating a supple physicality unexpected from a man heading speedily towards his half-century. At the back of the stage the huge gong that accompanied the band for their 2006 tour crashes out, adding to the newfound theatrics.
Curiously voiced between-songs soliloquays become the order of the evening. “I realise,” he says pointedly, “I’m only here because of my looks” after See The Boy Happy with its classic Moz line: “Let’s face it, soon I will be dead.” Thousands of devotees squeal on for their moping idol anyway. Later comes the most curious interjection of all, as he seems to replicate the quickfire Urdu jabber of Nitin Sawhney‘s Conference apropos of we know not what.
Unlike the first of the six nights there’s no National Front Disco tonight, nor is there mention of the tiresomely ongoing accusations and counter-accusations between the 48-year-old Mancunian and the NME on the subject of racism. Instead, following The World Is Full Of Crashing Bores, he confines himself to endorsing Barack Obama as president of the United States over “Billary” and pointedly spitting the words of Irish Blood, English Heart: “‘I’ve been dreaming of a time when/ To be English is not to be baneful/ To be standing by the flag not feeling/ Shameful, racist or partial.”
New single That’s How People Grow Up suggests his new material won’t provide any shocking change of direction, instead harking back to his comeback album You Are The Quarry, but it’s musically as solid as anything he’s written. He thanks Radio 2 and XfM for playlisting it. Something Is Squeezing My Skull, with its references to anti-depressants, sounds instantly like a single too, while Mama Lay Softly On The River Bed is the best new material of the evening.
In fine vocal form that’s a match for the guitars and drums around him, there’s less of the visceral orchestral flourishes that highlighted The Ringleader Of The Tormentors, Moz instead preferring uptempo rock numbers to dramatic balladeering. Perversely then, it’s the set’s slowest number, the forlorn Death Of A Disco Dancer, that proves to be a particular highlight.
First Of The Gang To Die, from You Are The Quarry, closes the set. All indications are it’s this rather standard issue rock song structure, coupled with his always outstanding lyrics, that he’s happiest sticking with. Whatever the extra-curricular controversies he finds himself part of, Morrissey sails on, proving the exception to the rule that says stars must change to survive. As his now customary shirt removal declares the evening at an end, we’re left to ponder that he’s too bloody minded to bother.