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- Morrissey »
“20 years ago I stood on this very spot, in this very shirt, in these very trousers with a music hall act – you’ve probably forgotten them.”
Manchester’s G-Mex Centre faces out from the centre of the city to the east. To Salford, Ordsall and Upper Broughton. The old train station used to be home to the city’s biggest gigs until the corporate monolith MEN Arena was constructed over Manchester Victoria. After years of being home to little but conventions, the glory of old has come back to St Peter’s Fields for two final nights before the venue becomes a full-time convention centre.
Talking about returning glories, you could say the same about Steven Patrick. He went years without coming back to Manchester, then, in 2004, he played an unforgettable night at the MEN (immortalised in the Who Put The 'M' in Manchester DVD), a homecoming basking in triumphalism. Manchester produces survivors and Morrissey proved in emphatic style that he could still send grown men to tears.
So it made perfect sense for him to finish the mammoth stint in support of Ringleaders of the Tormentors at what used to be Manchester Central Station. And at Christmas too. What a treat.
“Welcome to my dazzling career.”
The G-Mex isn’t quite like the theatres and arenas that most of this tour has soaked up, though; it’s one long wind-tunnel of sound. Imagine a medium-sized festival field with an Anderson shelter dropped plonk on top of it. The swell of fans bumpers back from the front of the venue like the old 5.15 arrival from St Pancras and it goes right back to the Better Burger Company van some 15,000 people back. Well, for tonight it’s the Vegi Burger Company, obviously.
It’s quite a sight. The Rusholme Ruffians have all grown up. Quite a few seem to have brought their kids, too. The inevitable terrace chants seep up to the arched roof of the G-Mex: “Mor-ris-sey!, Mor-ris-sey!” As we await our man, Manchester seems united.
And, with Moz never one to deny a grand gesture, the lights tremble, then fall as a grand cacophony of heavy piano fills the smoke-rinsed air. Then Britain’s greatest-living Mancunian drifts on stage dressed like a stockbroker. He stops and looks at the crowd. “Well, you sound friendly…” he coos before his band, decked out in matching shirts and bow-ties, crash head-first into the three chords that have defined many a night in 5th Avenue, 42nd Street, or any other average indie-disco in the country. It’s 'Panic'.
For all the cock-sure bravado of Oasis, the escapism of New Order and the verve of the Stone Roses, it’s The Smiths' glum love songs and concrete romance that best define Manchester - a city that’s simultaneously self-secure yet has to aggressively plaster itself with its own myth in order to preserve its place in the nation’s collective cultural consciousness.
A grown man near the sound desk paints a perfect picture of the dichotomy as he waves his fists lairyly during 'First of The Gang To Die', before play-acting, in the most outrageously camp way, the part of the song where Hector gets shot. And that is the magic of Morrissey - friend of the fops and friend of the thugs.
“And I am the king of the slums, yo!”
The five Smiths songs played tonight are proof why 90 per cent of the crowd are here. They crush towards the front like a delirious commuter charge for the likes of 'William, It Was Really Nothing' and 'Panic' while catching their breath during tracks from Ringleaders… and other solo material.
Which is a shame, but partly Mozza’s fault. Of course he shouldn’t play Smiths songs throughout, but some of his solo work, like 'I've Changed My Plea To Guilty', allows proceedings to fall flat – the atmosphere only returning when he pulls an 'Every Day Is Like A Sunday', a 'How Soon Is Now?', or an 'Irish Blood, English Heart' from his hat.
One of the recurring references to his hometown, especially in The Smiths, was Morrissey’s interest in the Moors murders. Back when the G-Mex was still Manchester Central Station it was the site where 17-year-old Edward Evans was picked up by Ian Brady before being killed. When Morrissey dedicates 'Everyday Is Like A Sunday' to Evans it provides a rare look at his sensitive side. He’s spent most of the night making snarky comments (“Would anybody like to speak into the mic? Well bring your own!”) so the crowd doesn’t really know how to react, falling quiet and then cheering the young victim’s name. It’s a moment that is quintessentially Morrissey-ian. And it’s oddly beautiful.
He didn't need to impress us. He didn't seem like he cared if he did (after the anti-climactic ending of 'Don't Make Fun of Daddy's Voice'). But he's Morrissey, and he can get away with it. Long may he torment.
Photo: Adam Gasson
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