Sunday, 30 June 2013
Pet Shop Boys - 20 June 2013 - Manchester Arena
I wouldn’t normally do this kind of thing…..
Over the last 30 years the Pet Shop Boys have acquired a reputation for not only catchy, poppy club anthems but also stage shows that don’t so much border the avant garde as trample over it; playing Manchester as part of their Electric tour confirms that age has not dwindled their desire to marry music and art into one finely crafted production. Put simply it’s as though Gilbert and George have been locked in a room with a vat of Sunny Delight and more fizzy sweets than a bunch of 4 year olds. Dancers in tinsel yeti outfits on pogo sticks? Glitter ball hats? Along with perhaps my personal favourite, stay in bed to sing your next track. All images of a visual feast that will stay with me for a very long time. That said in most hands this would turn into a parody but the simple truth is that the Pet Shop Boys manage to meld music, visual art and dance in such a way as it all becomes perfectly reasonable.
Starting earlier than their other gigs on the tour, once the club sounds have been ramped up to an alarming degree along with the audience tension following likewise the music is cut – who thought stopping music could raise a cheer? Graphics appear on the veil separating stage from audience and then we’re off with the promo for pounding instrumental Axis broadcast large on the veil/screen whilst Messrs Tennant and Lowe appear like giant evil gnomes to the delight of the crowd and segue into One More Chance. The veil drops followed by Face Like That complete with graphic overlay of a dancer over digital giant Neil and Chris heads. Opportunities gives Neil the chance to stride around the stage like an evil Simon Cowell in a rubber jacket best regarded as “interesting” and then it’s into more recent work with three tracks straight from their club repertoire. As if to reinforce this fact the laser show goes wild at this point with lasers firing all over the auditorium; I don’t think I’ve ever seen such amazing visuals. A quick change of jacket for them both and it’s back to the well known with I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind Of Thing, a pure slice of pop. Now this is just a riot visually as Neil and Chris, wearing what can only be described as animal head masks made out of mecanno, are joined by two dancers also similarly attired taking them through Suburbia and I’m Not Scared. However, this seems entirely normal; it is the Pet Shop Boys….
The middle section of the show contains some of arguably their more dancey numbers with Invisible and then it’s into the covers section with Last To Die from the new album Electric quickly followed by Bernstein’s Somewhere although I doubt he ever thought it would be quite so disco…. Joined on stage via digital projection by rapper Example, Thursday shows just how versatile this duo are with the unusual rearing it’s head with their next track Love etc sung from vertical beds with amazing use of graphics to meld their heads onto digitally projected bodies. They’re soon back into their hit stride with a slightly poppier version of Rent than the original which plays out to two dancers behind a second stage veil enacting the lyrics. It is one of the most beautiful marriages of song and dance I have seen for some time. A short sojourn into Miracles and it’s the arrival of the hit factory with It’s a Sin which gets the biggest cheer of the night so far which is saying something. Oh and the colour red. Red makes a very big appearance along with the pogo-ing tinsel yetis for Domino Dancing which ensures that even the most jaded is up and dancing through Go West and Always on my Mind which sees the dancers ditch the animal heads for the more normal red ball heads. Well, normal for them. A quick exit and then a return moments later day glo’d to West End Girls. I don’t think any other song epitomises the music scene 30 years ago better than this and the fact that it still sounds fresh and modern is testament to the ability of the Pet Shop Boys to reinvent and revitalise their sound. Leaving the stage after new single Vocal they could have easily returned and the crowd would still have been with them. However 1 hour 40 minutes, 24 tracks – surely that’s good value not to mention the graphics, choreography, lighting and digital projection which were all of a standard and originality that a lot of bands out there could do well to note. Two things struck me whilst I was watching them. The first was how good Neil’s voice still is and the second was how catchy and classically pop their records are. They really do make you feel, as Neil sang, “like dancing to the Rite of Spring”. Some may be slower, some disco’d covers, some club style but they are all so very pop. Surely that’s a good thing? Oh, and glitter ball hats – that’s another good thing.
Electric by Pet Shop Boys is released on 15 July - more information can be found at http://www.petshopboys.co.uk/
One More Chance / Face Like That
Opportunities (Let's Make Lots of Money)
Memory of the Future
I Wouldn't Normally Do This Kind of Thing
I'm Not Scared
Last to Die
Thursday (with Example)
I Get Excited (You Get Excited Too)
It's a Sin
Always on My Mind
West End Girls
This review should shortly be appearing at The Gig Review