When the lights went down, there she was: Queen Elizabeth II scowling and flipping the bird with both hands. The image, presumably Photoshopped, was projected onto two screens as a backdrop for perhaps the only artist who could get away with such brazen and politically charged humor. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Morrissey.
As the opening visual for “The Queen Is Dead,” a song by the Smiths, his former band, it was a fitting greeting for Morrissey’s show at Boston Opera House on Saturday, perfectly mirroring his attitude of not giving a damn. He was the Morrissey everyone had come to see and hear: uncompromising, grandly entertaining, and emoting at the peak of his powers.
A month in and a little more than a month before the release of his new album, “World Peace Is None of Your Business,” Morrissey’s latest tour arrived trailing its share of problems. He had canceled and postponed the two gigs just before Boston after he and his crew came down with a virus, and Kristeen Young, who has been his opening act for several years, abruptly announced her departure from the tour.
As such, there was no opener besides a rather haphazard collection of videos shown on a screen. Like a tour of Morrissey’s bookmarked YouTube favorites, the footage was a mishmash of everyone from the Ramones to British comedians to the author James Baldwin.
If there was any turmoil lingering behind the scenes, though, it wasn’t apparent in the performance. Morrissey and his lean five-piece band are a well-oiled machine, and he has been playing with most of these guys since the mid-2000s (and a lot longer in the case of guitarist and musical director Boz Boorer). Together they have fine-tuned what makes Morrissey’s attack so fearless: The music and lyrics deliver a punch to the gut, while Morrissey’s voice, which is sounding stronger, more nimble than ever, finesses the notes. He’s a protest singer masquerading as a cabaret artist.
The show was notably fixated on his introspective side, eschewing obvious material (including “Everyday Is Like Sunday,” one of his signature songs) for deeper cuts (“Yes, I Am Blind,” “Certain People I Know,” and “Trouble Loves Me”). For “Asleep,” a Smiths B-side, Morrissey crooned under the glow of a single spotlight, as Gustavo Manzur caressed the keys and Matthew Walker added faint percussion on drums.
Morrissey also previewed a sizable piece of his forthcoming album. “The Bullfighter Dies,” in particular, stood out for its classic Morrissey chorus: “Hooray, hooray/ The bullfighter dies/ And nobody cries,” he sang with genuine glee, right in line with his staunch support of animal rights.
The evening ended as expected: with the usual sport of fans trying to ambush the stage for . . . well, a hug. A few broke through, past security guards eager to shove intruders back into the crowd. Over the last chords of “First of the Gang to Die,” Morrissey tore off his shirt and tossed it into the audience, bidding farewell with three little words that tied it all together: “I love you.”