H&H // LIVE: PET SHOP BOYS – O2 ARENA – 18/06/13

Originally published on Hooting & Howling


In wide expectation of next month’s release, ‘Electric’, it was highly anticipated that Pet Shop Boys were always going to pull a storming live spectacle out the bag = the twelfth studio album is slated to be arguably the most promising since 2009’s ‘Yes’ – and Tuesday night’s O2 managed to do just about that.

By some magic, an overly civilized crowd led to prime position at 3rd row only further aiding to the awe of producer/composer/award nominee extraordinaire Jon Hopkins taking to the stage armed with several synths and a MacBook; no vocals, no stage production, just an hour of brilliant gutsy talent.

Then, inevitably, everything went black and the backdrop prepared with an advertising poster for ‘Electric’ snappped into a video worthy of the opening credits of Doctor Who, with a murmured Tennant vocal of “turn it up” making way for the mega ‘Axis’ to startle us into the set. By the end the two figures on the visuals had emerged onto stage, complete with spiky jackets and pointed hats in style and at the jab of a synth from the hands of Chris Lowe, the O2 had erupted into the classic, ‘One More  Chance’, with interjections of ‘A Face Like That’ from last year’s ‘Elysium’ – you can get away with an immediate medley when you’re Pet Shop Boys.

The tone had been set for the evening and the onslaught of synthpop brilliance continued, ‘Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots Of Money)’ was given an airing, complete with uniting crowd chants, and before the lesser known but equally summoning types were drawn out – a costume change had already been made with an interval of buffalo skull headed dancers that remained throughout the show- as you do. ‘Fugitive’ and ‘Integral’ both stormed through as musical standouts, returning to the flourish of the duo’s early 00’s – “we’re concerned/you’re a threat/you’re not integral/to the project” planting it’s sterile dramatics on the topic basis of a life controlled by a totalitarian government. The juxtaposition of the next section, complete with new outfits, naturally, was welcomed greatly.

With tracks like ‘Suburbia’ and ‘I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind Of Thing’, the inevitable disco spirits were taken to a whole new high and topped off with more elaborateonstage dramatics and a carefully ployed cover of Springsteen’s ‘Last To Die’, somehow effortlessly made into a better song than The Boss could ever hope to achieve – then, just when you think there is no way the show could get anymore theatric, ‘Somewhere’ is launched into. I never once thought I’d find myself in a packed out arena dancing to Bernstein’s finest but it certainly happened, you can’t help but wonder why they haven’t tackled the rest of the soundtrack with their synthed up spice yet, with Tennant and Lowe at high command, evidently nothing is out of bounds.

Speaking of which, post springing offstage in wake of an routine of unimaginable talent from the buffalo dancers – Chris Lowe emerging with a mirror ball covering his face and Neil in a matching jacket, naturally – ‘Leaving’ promptly warmed up the thousands before, much to everyone’s surprise, Example (yes, that one) co-starred with rap verses on new track ‘Thursday’, and despite denies of it being a single, with expected talks of dancing and sun, it sounds like a bona fide hit already. ‘Love etc.’ continued, seeing the duo strapped to some smart bed set ups for comic effect before the tempo kept coming with ‘I Get Excited You Get Excited Too’ and, arguably one of the best tracks to witness live by anyone, ‘Rent’.

By the end of ‘Miracles’, the entire venue was just a buzz of glee, an atmosphere so rare that no other band as culturally big or important could ever replicate or top despite the talk – well, until they burst into ‘It’s A Sin’, that was. The trio of genius arrived straight after in the form of ‘Domino Dancing’‘Go West’ and ‘Always On My Mind’ – they’ve stolen this one as their own too, sorry Brenda – before the stage was succintly left with more mindblowing visuals and thunderous cheers filling the void.

It was all short lived of course, the last costume change of the night saw bright orange confetti co-ordinated suits – incredible, and were back on form for a penultimate stroll through ‘West End Girls’ before latest single ‘Vocal’ was unleashed with blinding lighting and storming cannons that quite literally transformed the entire arena into an incredible, colossal rave – Stuart Price has worked his trickery in fine style once again. A brief introduction to our champions for the night was made paving the way for one awestriking dance off and, for the final time, the two flounced offstage beaming, leaving a trail of lasers, confetti and electronic destruction.

It’s hard to believe after thirty years the duo can be putting on extravaganzas like this, they have a combined age of over 100 in case you were wondering, and challenging any other group of people to top what they do onstage is a hefty feat – every single track from ‘Electric’ premiered so far has created buzz of pure pop magic and with the live show taking it a step further, the album might just be the one that restores Pet Shop Boys from the drifting seas of Elysium back onto the dancefloor – not that they were gone for long. It’s an untouchable wonder and it keeps going from strength to strength – there’s still two more Price produced albums in the pipeline, we’re in for a treat – long live the disco.