As far as Northern Ireland is concerned Morrissey concerts are like buses, you wait ages for one to come along and two arrive at once. It's been a decade since this legendary figure performed here and now he's playing back-to-back Omagh and Belfast dates. When he was last here, at the Ulster Hall in 1999, he was in the music industry wilderness, without an album to promote and without a record deal. However, as the man himself is wont to proclaim, "Time will prove everything", and eventually he emerged from the barren years with 2004's You Are The Quarry. Successive albums reaffirmed his continued relevance and his refusal to be preserved in aspic by Smiths' devotees.
And now here he is, in Omagh Leisure Complex. Basketball hoops hang on either side of the court, the swimming pool is just through the doors on the hall's left-hand side. To see a true icon in such unlikely environs gives the evening's proceedings a slightly surreal spin.
The screen for a pre-show show reel featuring Morrissey favourites such as Shelagh Delaney and the New York Dolls falls suddenly to the stage floor. Behind it is a huge backdrop of a cigar-chomping, muscle-flexing sailor. An instrumental version of 'You'll Never Walk Alone' begins to waft out and, as the last notes strain to a finish, out strolls Moz and band.
Resplendent in brown cardigan and jeans, he begins cracking the microphone lead, urging his troops through a fierce version of 'This Charming Man'. This is no mothballed, nostalgia-dusted rendition; instead it is a vibrant reimagining, full of punk-rock vigour. It's a storming beginning and just the first of a number of Smiths songs that will pepper the show. Of course, it is recent album Years Of Refusal that forms the spine of the set. 'Something Is Squeezing My Skull' is taut and thunderous and 'I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris' full of soaring majesty.
Those delicate gestures, the acting out of lyrics and the sheer drama that he instils in each song makes Morrissey a compelling presence. There is humour and humanity in abundance, often in the same song - note the rendition of 'Girlfriend In A Coma'. Elsewhere, a full-throttle 'Irish Blood, English Heart' sends a surge through the audience, the guitars of Jesse Tobias and Boz Boorer providing real oomph. What a rare delight too, to hear 'Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others', Morrissey, his arms outstretched, giving literal form to its Carry On style lyric.
It's difficult to think of a time when his singing has been so strong, weathered, but not worn, the vocal slathering every utterance in emotion, with 'How Soon Is Now?' especially rousing. Throughout, the band are urgent and impeccably marshalled. Indeed, the only real cause for disappointment tonight is the lack of Moz repartee, with between song banter somewhat scarce. Still, a blistering encore of 'First Of The Gang To Die' provides consolation aplenty and, hey, maybe he'll be more talkative tomorrow night in Belfast.
Words: Francis Jones