Review: Morrissey shows his talents remain in fine form at sold-out concert at Arsht Center

Morrissey performs at Arsht Center on May 31, 2014. Photo: Manny Hernandez

No one sings like Morrissey. No one else can pull off combining sometimes foppish sentimentality with deep and resounding masculinity, and no one else can wrestle heart-wrenching emotion and wickedly dry humor from the same poetic lyric like Morrissey does.

All of the ex-Smiths front man’s vocal glory was on display Saturday night at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Miami, where a sold-out crowd cheered his every subtle move.

Morrissey fans expecting a nostalgic journey through his beloved Smiths catalog and biggest solo hits only partially got their wish. But, simply put, it hardly matters what the 55-year-old British icon chooses to sing, because it’s all mesmerizing.

Morrissey performed only a few songs from his Smiths days, opening the show with a rousing version of fan favorite How Soon Is Now? As soon as the shimmying, tremolo-soaked, opening guitar riff rang out, the audience erupted into a joyous standing ovation, and from the opening line, “I am the son and the heir/of a shyness that is criminally vulgar,” it was clear his effortless baritone was in fine form.

Morrissey’s band did its best Smiths impersonation, too, even down to the biting harmonica from Hand In Glove, another oldie that delighted the crowd.

Morrissey has a reputation for having a cantankerous side, but this charming man was on his best behavior Saturday night, gracefully shaking hands with front-row fans throughout the evening in mid-croon. He rarely spoke between songs, but wryly announced, “Before we go any further, I’d like to tell you that I’m a very understanding person,” to kick off I Have Forgiven Jesus. While bathed in bright-white heavenly light, Morrissey sang, “Do you hate me?”

Later, Morrissey offered an amusing critique of American commercials: “I’m fascinated by products that say could cause hives, facial swelling, deep depression, even death, and yet show a healthy woman running through the woods. If they wanted to be honest, why not show a dead woman?”

The requisite preview of new tracks from Morrissey’s upcoming 10th solo album, “World Peace Is None of Your Business,” due in July, was nearly as well-received as the familiar songs. The anti-government sentiment of the title track, the sinewy bass line of Istanbul and the simplistic animal-rights song The Bullfighter Dies (“and nobody cries, because they all want the bull to survive”) all struck a chord.

Also striking a chord but in a much more grisly fashion was The Smiths song Meat Is Murder. Until that point, there was barely any stage decoration, just very bright lights and Smiths’ album cover-esque black-and-white photos of random people on the street. But Morrissey backed his most famous animal-rights protest song with shockingly graphic footage of factory farm cruelty to pigs, chickens, turkeys and cows, during which his band absolutely raged, churning out angry, twisted guitar solos and pounding on huge tom-tom drums that sounded like gunshots. The effect was as exhilarating as it was disturbing, showing one reason why British music magazine NME called Morrissey “one of the most influential artists ever.”

Other highlights included the grand I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris and Yes, I Am Blind, with Morrissey sweeping his arms dramatically like a seasoned cabaret singer; the soulful ballad Trouble Loves Me, whose line “Somebody hold me” inspired a few randy cheers; and the anthemic Life Is a Pigsty, during which Morrissey showed off his strong falsetto.

The short encore once again mined Smiths territory with the soothing Asleep, with Morrissey, accompanied only by piano and minimal guitar and percussion, crooning, “Sing me to sleep/And then leave me alone/Don’t try to wake me in the morning/Because I’ll be gone.”

It would have been a fitting goodbye lullaby to his adoring Miami crowd, but Morrissey cranked out one more tune, the rowdy First of the Gang to Die, during which a smitten blonde woman climbed onstage to get a handshake before security corralled her. And when a young man broke through and hugged Morrissey, the singer didn’t miss a beat, delivering the song’s line, “Oh, you silly boy,” as if on cue.