Pet Shop Boys Live At The O2: Like Eurovision With Good Songs

Nearly 30 years after they stormed out of London in a haze of synth pop and social commentary lyrics, the Pet Shop Boys still deliver an amazing live experience, full of visual flair and nods to their influences...
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Nearly 30 years after they stormed out of London in a haze of synth pop and social commentary lyrics, the Pet Shop Boys still deliver an amazing live experience, full of visual flair and nods to their influences...

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The thing with the Pet Shop Boys is they've never been overtly troubled or burdened by what they do, which is entertain people with amazing shows and fast colourful fancy pop music. Simple stuff but the musical consistency and natural progression has allowed the flights of unbelievable fancy to occur in the form of the stage shows they essentially appear in. they haven't as yet needed to do an acoustic album or a tour of Ukrainian folk songs.

Who in their right minds would have huge silver tinsel Yetis bouncing around on pogo sticks during a performance of a top ten hit, Domino Dancing? The Pet Shop Boys, that's who. Right minds? Yes, very much so. Does it stand out? No, watch this Pet Shop Boys show and you come to accept such colourful insanity. Left to their own devices? They'd probably smile.

Over twenty years ago I asked Keyboardist Chris Lowe what he would do when he retired and he said "I want to own a nightclub in Blackpool, my hometown." I imagine in all honesty we probably both thought he'd have that night club by now but such has been their grip on what they want to do as a band, the Pet Shop Boys have been taking Blackpool to the world rather than the other way round. Or certainly Blackpool as it was once seen, the Mecca for bright, eye catching top entertainment. The band - through personality as much as music - have continued to enrapture a very loyal and loving audience.

Here at London's 02 Arena, the most American of venues we have in the UK, The Pet Shop Boys delivered a show as theatrical as it was musical. A brilliant array of old and new songs performed, a spectacular show exploding with video, costume changes, lazers, dancers and ever changing head gear.  All to a sell out audience, very few of who are dressed with Glitterball helmets or straight jacketed into vertical double beds like their idols on stage. It's a curious fact that despite being unashamedly pop and ambitiously provocative with the visuals the Pet Shop Boys attract a very mainstream crowd. No one here is going to mutter because they cover Elvis or Bruce Springsteen. The band appear to love what they do and the audience in turn love them for it.

How do two men look good on such a massive stage? Mix humour and art and no doubt some very clever designer to constantly stimulate and challenge and make you laugh so the songs almost become a soundtrack rather than the central point of the night.

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Underpinning everything are fast moving videos and electronica, mixing with a trademark fondness to borrow lyrics or nod to their predecessors, constantly keeping you on your toes, and reveal classic hits re bumped and stripped by producer Stuart Price.

From the start they upped the anticipation with one of those POV videos that races you through tunnels and kaleidoscopes, tearing through eye boggling graphics until two silhouettes of what looked like Dorothy's Tin Man with a cob on, all spikes and cones, appeared and took to the microphone and keyboard respectively. Chris's keyboard is supported by a cross made of bulbs. God complex? Why of course.

No other band this side of heavy metal are capable of creating such an amazingly stunning stage show by combining theatrical performance with a sense of piss taking. You can almost hear the band looking at each presented visual idea saying "That look's amazing" with "this'll put it up 'em"

Second song in Neil Tennant gets rid of the Tin Man look and reappears with thousands of black plastic straws all over his arms, he looks like a Pound Shop Mad Max baddie or those huge wet wipers you'd find round the back of a service station. You're not sure whether to dance or ask him for a drive through car wash.

His looks, like his voice, have lasted. Nowadays he resembles George Peppard, which combined with Chris Lowe's shades and chopper pilot's cap give them the look of The A-Team. All they are missing is their old sideman Denton as Mr T.

The big screens and bright stage lights give massive close ups and Chris remains impassive throughout, his jaw line unexpectedly reminiscent of Judge Dredd.

Back when I was an NME writer twenty years ago I went round the world with the Pet Shop Boys from Prague to New York but this is the first time I've seen them this century. I'm please to report the show is as good as meeting true old friends in real life. Nothing has changed but everything has changed. Their music still does what it says on the camp. Lead lyrics are titles, "It's taken me all of my life to find you" rolls Neil again and again. I haven't a clue if this is a new song or a couple of albums old but it holds its own with the classics.

"This is the time of our lives" he continues, capturing moments of pop and love, as white clock face eyed images of the two of them fill the electronic backdrop.

Throughout the show writhing between them are two dancers in long horned cattle headdresses; it's not clear whether they are doing the festival gigs or just appearing on the minor tour. When they're not ballet dancing or moving around on stilts in suits, an impressive feat you start to take for granted, they're mimicking classic Top Of The Pops moves - Horns & Co.

Not to be left out Chris and Neil adopt the sort of winged horned helmets bad guys in Flash Gordon sport and just to remind you of where this OTT performance stemmed from there's a snatch of Queen's 'One Vision', an intro sung in the style of Bryan Ferry and of course the Village People anthem 'Go West'.

For 'I'm Not Scared' the arena is filled with a blizzard of green laser beams. Other songs flash by, the Springsteen cover 'The Last To Die' works, Example appears spitting everywhere, male voice choirs provide backing vocals, intros sound like early computer games, scenes change like a classic musical. The audience rise for 'It's A Sin', 'Opportunities' is introduced simply as 'Money', 'Rent' has an equally disguised intro and 'Suburbia' remains one of the truly great pop songs about British life up there with The Specials and The Kinks.

'West End Girls' sounds as conspiratorial as ever, one more unexpected encore and they've bowed out and gone. An explosion of orange ticker tape. A thanks to London in a foreign tongue. It's like Eurovision with great songs. A fucking great gig.