There's no doubt about it: there are times when it is difficult to be a Morrissey fan. In recent years, those occasions have become increasingly frequent as the Manchester man with the Irish blood and English heart's outlandish, xenophobic statements become ever more indefensible. His pro-Brexit and pro-Nigel Farage commentary, meanwhile, has struck gloom and dismay into the hearts of many who considered him the very man whom they always assumed would rail against such Little Englander pettiness.
Whatever their view on his politics, fans have flocked in their thousands to the 3Arena tonight – perhaps even more of them than the last time he played the same venue back in December 2014. On that occasion, a Monday night gig on the back of what in hindsight was a pretty uninspiring album ('World Peace is None of Your Business') made for a glum, flat atmosphere with little in the way of a stage show. Tonight, he seems comparatively invigorated – and he should be. Not only is new album 'Low in High School' one of his strongest solo outings to date, but he's even spent a bit of money on the set; glowing prefect-style neon shields frame the stage, flaring into life around his tight band while images of everything from a young Robert De Niro to a photoshopped Margaret Thatcher at the mercy of a police baton flash up on the screen behind him (noticeably, there are no close-ups of the man himself – that quiff isn't quite what it used to be).
Then there's the songs. From the Mariachi flutter of opener (and Elvis cover) You'll Be Gone and the provocative When You Open Your Legs to the glam-rock stomp of My Love, I'd Do Anything for You, the new tracks are muscular, confident creations that hold up superbly in the live forum. Much of that is down to Morrissey's exquisite voice, as rich and textured as it has ever been as he nears the age of 59. Early solo single Suedehead predictably incites a mass singalong, while there are just two Smiths songs in the mix – a playful I Started Something I Couldn't Finish and How Soon is Now?, which seems a little heavy-handed and by-the-numbers. A cover of The Pretenders' Back on the Chain Gang, meanwhile, is a pleasant inclusion while Spent the Day in Bed's quirky pop-rock bounce leads thousands to collectively declare that they will 'Stop watching the news / Because the news contrives to frighten you.'
Oh yes, there are politics, too; it wouldn't be a Moz show without them. Surprisingly, the Royals are given a wide berth for once, but he predictably rails against the evils of 'the press' with gusto. His various manifestos often land with a clumsy thunk, but hard-to-watch footage of matadors slaughtering innocent animals during the musically jovial The Bullfighter Dies makes a salient point about animal cruelty.
Later, a poignant telling of Vauxhall & I track Hold On To Your Friends is a highlight, while a nod to Irish songwriter Gilbert O'Sullivan's 'Alone Again' leads into a rousing Every Day Is Like Sunday. Before we know it, Irish Blood, English Heart has sent us flooding out into the brisk evening, thinking that the whole thing was a lot better than we had perhaps expected it to be. Yes, there are times when it is difficult to be a Morrissey fan – but tonight was not one of them.