PET SHOP BOYS, Inner Sanctum, Royal Opera House, 20 July 2016
Three decades is a long time. Pet Shop Boys, now on their 42nd hit single, their 13th album, their 35th year together, have cemented their position to institutions, to great artists – fit to rank alongside … But they don't get respect. Unfairly denigrated, Pet Shop Boys have become, through a steady and sure march in time, perhaps the greatest British artists of the modern age. They should be spoken of as more than equal to Damien Hirst, and Tracey Emin, and further back, perhaps, Francis Bacon, and a pop Shakespeare.
Nope, this isn't hyperbole. They are that good. Oh, I understand why you don't like them. Guys singing in high voices, dressed as a Jelly Baby, armed with a bank of syntheisisers. It's not real music. But if it moves your heart, your soul, and your feet...it's real. Music unlocks emotions if it makes you feel something other than utter fury at how awful it is, it's real music.
The medium of music is often under-valued. Music – the tangible old format of the 7” single, the four minute song – is often seen as a popular, base taste. There's a snobbery here : you don't see kids enjoying great art (or any Studio Ghibli films, for that matter). Which is nonsense : the song is one of the most important art forms of all time. And Pet Shop Boys are the finest songwriting duo of all time : with a wider palette, a great history, and songs at least as valid as Morrissey/Marr or Lennon/McCartney. They might never get the recognition – after all – it's just pop. But on stage, the Pet Shop Boys art project is fully formed, fleshed out, and realised.
The “Inner Sanctum” tour takes the concept of the privileged VIP area, and gives us an asburd, abstract presentation of some of their greatest work. If they were to play every song of theirs of worth, well, across 14 albums, 4 remix sets, 3 best ofs, 2 B-side compilations, 2 live albums and 4 soundtracks, there's several hundred songs of worth there. Even their b-sides have a mostly classic status hat shows an abundance of riches. There are bad Pet Shop Boys songs, but aside from the 3rd b-side of the 5th single from their 5th album in 8 years, it's hard to think of one.
It's also a show aimed as much for the dancefloor as much as it is the art gallery. The opening salvo sees three live premieres (“Inner Sanctum”, “The Pop Kids”, and “Burn”), as well as the first concert performance of “In The Night” and “West End Girls” all done in the first quarter of an hour. It's a rampaging rhythmic monster. Whilst the band look to comprise just a duo, the first set of staging – two huge white rotating balls on which projections beam out surrounded by lasers, are wheeled off and replaced by a wall of drums mid-song combined with the kind of futuristic smoke, lasers, and strobes that I last saw when I caught most of Pink Floyd at the Albert Hall performing “Echoes”. Think of it really as an irresistable disco Death Star.
Whilst this might, on paper, be the Royal Opera House. It is, as the T-shirts say a night of House Music. There's little pretension – no overriding narrative that soundtracked their groundbreaking 1991 tour. No opera, no ballet, just gorgeously silly – and knowingly silly – pop music with beats the size of planets and lyrics better than most Hollywood blockbusters in 5% of the time. There's also no shortage of hits. Whilst Pet Shop Boys have an abundance of hits, and some setlist staples, “It's A Sin” is now an enormous recreation of the mid-Eighties eight minute disco mix, alongside dollops of “Left To My Own Devices”, and “Always On My Mind”, and “Go West”, and well, you get the picture...
And if “You Get The Picture” isn't a Pet Shop Boys song, it bloody well should be.
Behind the band, a set of interlocking disco circles dance behind the stage, rotating, and lit up with all manner of neon, lasers, and overall bonkersness. In the meantime, there's a reckless abandon at the heart of the show, an acknowledgement of how ridiculous the concept of dancing in an apocalypse is ; and going with it anyway. As the show climaxes in “Domino Dancing” and a reprise of "The Pop Kids".. the stage sees almost as many people on it as in the crowd : 32 dancers in inflatable pastel body suits – looking like E-dropping early 90's Jelly Babies – dance in unison, three drummers pound away huge rhythms.
It's been an incredibly long time since I saw a live show and thought it was worth a lot more. Tonight, with “Inner Sanctum”, I saw easily the best and most impressive Pet Shop Boys show in 25 years. I advise you – strongly – to see this show, let go of yourself, and dance your arse off.
West End Girls
The Pop Kids
In The Night
Love Is A Bourgeouis Construct
New York City Boy
Se A Vida E
Love Comes Quickly
The Dictator Decides
Inside A Dream
Home And Dry
The Sodom And Gomorrah Show
It's A Sin
Left To My Own Devices
Always On My Mind
The Pop Kids (reprise)