Morrissey @ Brisbane Convention Centre 17.12.12

Arts Editor and Senior Writer (many years until 2012)

It's been over a decade since The Moz was last in Australia. It was worth the wait.

Morrissey's hand-picked support act Kristeen Young — apparently a duo, but tonight the St Louis singer is working without her drummer — isn't exactly a household name, but it doesn't take the crowd long to compare her to one. "Kate Bush!", an impatient punter helpfully yells out for those who haven't made the comparison yet; "I've never heard of her", Young deadpans in reply.

I wonder for a moment if Morrissey could have roped in Kate Miller-Heidke instead and saved himself some cash on airfares, but it soon becomes clear why he's so fond of Young: between her distinct phrasing and her penchant for melodrama, she's less like Kate Bush and more like a female version of, well, Morrissey. There's something faintly narcissistic about that, which should shock no one.  

She departs, and after a brief intermission, the house lights darken and a droning voice reads off what could easily be Morrissey's top 100 Google searches ('Adolf Hitler', 'Tiananmen Square', 'John Lennon's Death' and 'Rednecks' all make the cut), but is actually an obscure Big Hard Excellent Fish single, 'Imperfect List'.  

The man and his band finally appear and take a bow, before launching immediately into 'Shoplifters Of The World Unite'. And why not? There are an awful lot of them about lately. It's brilliant, obviously, his voice every bit as commanding as it was in 1987, and it remains so throughout solo staples 'You Have Killed Me', 'You're The One For Me, Fatty', 'Alma Matters' and a thrilling rendition of 'Everyday Is Like Sunday'.

Morrissey 5I notice at this point that, although the crowd has filled out significantly since Kristeen Young's set, Brisbane has not exactly turned out in droves for the Mozfather. It probably doesn't help that spotlights are continually being shone on empty sections of seats in Morrissey's eyeline, but if he's bothered by it, he doesn't let on.

Indeed, after belting through 'Speedway' – featuring perhaps the quintessential Morrissey lyric ('And all those lies / Written lies, twisted lies / Well, they weren't lies'), for the way it comes across as deeply confessional without actually revealing anything of substance – he tells a rather self deprecating story.

The night before the show, he came across an episode of RockWiz on TV and was deeply hurt that none of the contestants, when asked to name singers with a single name starting with 'M', thought to mention him. Bless.

After a humbling moment like that, it probably can't hurt to remind yourself of your godlike genius, so 'How Soon Is Now' is the next cab off the rank. It turns out that, even when played by a Guitarist Who Is Not Johnny Marr, it's still a pretty fantastic song (even if it gets a strangely subdued reaction from the crowd). The giant Chinese gong, which had been sitting there like Chekhov's Gun through the rest of the show, really comes in handy on this track – if you're a local band looking for a bit of highly impractical flair, I'd recommend it.

In the closest he gets to a classic Morrissey rant, he thanks Australians for their protests against factory farms, and throws in a random Wills and Kate non-sequitur ("bags of shit") while he's at it. Nothing shocking, but good on him for having the consistent courage of his convictions.

Naturally, 'Meat Is Murder' follows, complete with an animal cruelty powerpoint he prepared earlier. At the end of the song, I still love meat, but I'm doubly certain that I'd never mention that to Morrissey.

He gets his shirt off during an impassioned performance of 'Let Me Kiss You', because of course he does. The first of many minor costume changes follows, before he absolutely kills (in a good way) my favourite solo Morrissey track ('Irish Blood, English Heart', for those keeping score).

There's a weird, potentially set-up moment after that, where he hands the microphone to a woman in the front row who thanks him for his 'compassion and courage', and for 'saving many lives'. This kicks off an awkward, impromptu Q&A, as every shameless punter in the crowd decides this is their chance to shout something at the legend.

This actually becomes one of the night's more memorable moments. Morrissey puts down one armchair activist with a succinct "we know you're clever, you don't have to prove it", and responds to a particularly loud cry of "I love you!" with a brusque, matter-of-fact "yeah". The "of course" is left unspoken, but heavily implied, because why wouldn't they love him?

The show finally gets back underway ("Does anybody mind if I sing now? Does anybody mind? …But there's so much to talk about!") with another dip into The Smiths catalogue for 'Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want'. The difference between a quiet crowd, which this one had been up until now, and a hushed crowd becomes painfully, beautifully clear.

Unfortunately, we're a fickle, impatient bunch, and it only takes two songs ('I Know It's Over' and 'November Spawned A Monster') to lose us. He knows it, and this time he does let on ("you're bored stiff, I can tell"), but he's still pretty chill about it. You would be, too, if you had pearlers like 'The Youngest Was The Most Loved' and 'Sweet And Tender Hooligan' in your back pocket — having placed his acolytes back in the palm of his hand with those two, he takes his leave.

A crowd this size can't muster up a particularly persuasive call for an encore, but since that's never actually been an essential part of the encore process, the band comes back anyway. 'This is your last chance ever!', Mozza shouts, but despite multiple sacrifices — one teary punter after another clambers aboard the stage to give him a hug, before being rather forcefully removed by security — he's not impressed, and lets 'First Of The Gang To Die' be this evening's swan song.

Sure, he leaves a great many classic tunes on the table (it's easy to do that when you've written that many classic tunes), but all told, it's been a rather enchanted evening. I can only imagine the packed Sydney and Melbourne shows will be even more special.

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