Morrissey – review

Palladium, London

At the time of writing, neither Dublin, Dundee nor Humberside have been affected by the recent riots. Carlisle remains quiet. But there has been panic on the streets of London – unrest that recalls the previous wave of disturbances in the early 80s that, allegedly, inspired a 1986 single called "Panic" by the Smiths. ("Panic on the streets of London," it goes, "Panic on the streets of Birmingham.") Arguably one of the greatest of British bands, the Smiths remain heroically averse to reuniting.

Any other artist might have capitalised on such cultural congruency. Playing "Panic" would have seized the zeitgeist, and perhaps garnered Morrissey – the fabulously well-maintained 52-year-old singer who co-wrote it – some fond headlines. He could use them. Last month, after a gig in Poland, Morrissey declared that the recent massacre of Norwegian teenagers was nothing compared with the horror that goes on in fast-food restaurants. Even hardened Morrissey fans – and Morrissey does inspire a particular sort of obsessive – were aghast. Twitter had a seizure. He has since clarified his position slightly.

Morrissey is not averse to revisiting Smiths songs, either. Tonight's energetic set opens with "I Want the One I Can't Have", in which Morrissey growls a couple of lines, filling them with a new, bear-like sexual frustration. His band sound like an outfit seized by end-of-tour devil-may-care, bashing and clanging their way through the set.

A heavy-handed and doomy rendition of "Meat is Murder", meanwhile, comes accompanied by distressing videos of animals being slaughtered and the latter-day chorus, "Kill, eat, kill, eat." The drummer beats a huge gong. More thrilling by far is "I Know It's Over", which supplies a truly magical mid-point to the evening. Morrissey's suited and dickie-bowed band stop thrashing and settle into a lush and understated thrum. Mournful and hammy by turns, Morrissey shapes his tie into a noose.

On this final night of his UK tour, Morrissey refers only briefly to current affairs. The previous night's gig took place in Brixton; a good time was had "inside the venue, not outside". His concerns seem to lie elsewhere, reserving his fire in between songs for the royals and their cruelty to animals.

It is a peculiarly solipsistic universe that Morrissey and his fans inhabit. The show in this plush old music hall theatre opens with the words "Welcome to my world". This is either a wry reference to Justin Bieber (who opens his own shows with those words) or to a new blog, morrisseysworld.blogspot.com, written in a highly amusing parody of Morrissey's style. Is it him? Is it super-fan Russell Brand? The latest post refers to the possibility of Morrissey stripping at a future gig. Instead, as is his custom, he removes his shirt with a flourish at the height of the encore, "First of the Gang to Die". You can only conclude that this most un-Lycra-clad of men works out.

With an album recorded and ready to go, Morrissey currently finds himself label-less and without his previous management. "I have come to a new conclusion – I don't want a record contract!" Morrissey declares at one point; elsewhere, he wryly dismisses his career as "persistence". His autobiography, though, is expected in time for Christmas 2012.

Unusually, many of Morrissey's newer songs sound better than the older passages of his solo career. "Throwing My Arms Around Paris" is loud and fun, with Morrissey almost making a joke of his own self-pity. By contrast, "Ouija Board, Ouija Board" and "You're the One for Me, Fatty" sound downright odd.

Before the gig begins, we are treated to a film of a characteristically taciturn Lou Reed press conference dating from the singer's bleached blond 70s heyday. Nonetheless, Morrissey's cover of Reed's "Satellite of Love" comes as a pleasant shock – one rendered all the more strange by Morrissey's straight-laced, RP rendition of Reed's strung-out New York words.

His new songs are certainly arresting, if not quite entirely seductive. "Action is My Middle Name" is a compelling, predatory love song that finds Morrissey singing "I can't waste time any more" while his band turn out a reverberating 60s accompaniment.

Dramatic and booming, "Scandinavia" sounds, after the fact, like another of those weird acts of pop prophecy. Written before events in Norway, it refers to people burning and children crying – but actually concerns Morrissey falling in love with the place.

This otherwise enjoyable night is marred, though, by the heavy-handed way in which the bouncers pick off stage invaders. One young girl is dragged across the stage. During "Meat is Murder" there's an unpleasant scene of a cow hanging from one hoof, writhing. The bouncers manhandle a skinny young fan: he is kicking, helplessly, in exactly the same fashion.

Contributor

Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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