It was his first New Orleans concert in nearly 23 years, and Morrissey, the British singer famous for 33 years of sad songs, looked pleased.
Morrissey played the first date of his 2015 U.S. tour Thursday at the Saenger Theatre. Following the cancellation of most of the dates on his 2014 American tour, his fans in New Orleans were delighted to see him. Dancing at their seats, they stood throughout the show and spilled into the aisles, prompting ushers to gently herd them back to their places.
Beyond the musical and, at this point, historical connection Morrissey and his fans share, he made a physical connection with some of them Thursday, reaching down from the stage to briefly touch the hands raised toward him. This was a gracious Morrissey, relaxed and warm, but still theatrical and more of a protest singer than he’s ever been.
The singer turned 56 in May. Time is unkind to singers, but his voice, always more crooner-smooth than rock singer-rough, was in splendid shape — maybe better than ever.
Subject to health issues that resulted in canceled concerts through the years, Morrissey looked well, too. He didn’t swing and twirl his microphone cord as energetically or as often as in decades past, but he showed plenty of stamina throughout a 90-minute-plus show.
His mood Thursday, engagement with fans and the length of the show contrasted greatly with the November 1992 appearance he made at the nearby State Palace Theatre.
At that show, the singer complained about the venue, a movie palace in decline. His only other words to the audience were an opening “Hello” and closing “Goodbye.” And he hurled back the gladioluses his fans tossed at him.
What a difference 23 years makes.
During his solo concerts through the years, Morrissey has played songs by his much-heralded 1980s band, The Smiths, but Thursday’s show had few of them. Coming late in the show, a high-spirited “Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before” felt like a special treat.
As if making a point, Morrissey opened with his first solo hit, 1988’s musically upbeat, lyrically downbeat “Suedehead.”
“Gracias,” said the singer, who has a large Mexican following, after the song.
For “Suedehead” and throughout the concert, Morrissey’s five-man band, road-tested earlier this year in the United Kingdom, Europe and Australia, performed mightily.
As usual for Morrissey’s show, the concert was heavy on songs from his latest album.
This year, that album is last year’s “World Peace Is None of Your Business.” The “World Peace” songs cover his familiar themes, such as desperate unhappiness, animal rights, death and disgust with human behavior.
It was characteristically Morrissey, for instance, that the second song of the night, the wry and lively “Staircase at the University,” is about a stressed-out student who commits suicide by throwing herself down a staircase. But the show also featured the unusually joyful “Kiss Me a Lot.”
Another “World Peace” song, “I’m Not a Man,” became a manifesto for living a kinder, gentler, less consumerist life.
“I’d never kill or eat an animal,” the passionate Morrissey proclaimed in song. “And I would never destroy this planet I’m on. Well, what do you think I am? A man?”
Following another early solo Morrissey hit, the majestic “Everyday Is Like Sunday,” his animal-rights advocacy was on brutal display when video footage shot at an international collection of slaughterhouses accompanied the anti-meat industry Smiths song, “Meat Is Murder.” The merciless imagery was followed by the caption: “What’s your excuse now?”
An emotional, full-of-pathos performance of 1994’s “Now My Heart Is Full” preceded a furious, thunderous encore featuring “The Queen Is Dead.”
That classic Smiths song ended the show and a welcome return to New Orleans that, by the looks of it, filled Morrissey’s heart and his fans’ alike.