PET SHOP BOYS Birmingham Barclaycard Arena 24 February 2017
Where are we now? Pet Shop Boys are getting old. Not that you would know it. The disco Gilbert & George still stick to their guns, avoiding the nostalgia route, maintaining both their commercial appeal and artistic integrity, constantly moving forward and never letting us forget where they've been – or where they are going. Tennant / Lowe are the finest songwriting duo of all time. Yes. Better than Morrissey / Marr. And Lennon / McCartney. Most bands have a first flush – what Tennant has called the 'imperial phase' – and some don't survive it. This act have not only done so, but have continued to remain relevant, and thrived.
Time moves on. We move on. The 13 year old I once was who listened endlessly to “Please” and “Disco” is still in me ; in the way that the band themselves still carry their past selves and incarnations with them now, and change, and evolve, and learn, and refine that now as a band with an average age of 60. There's still their inner selves in there – and it runs like a golden thread through everything they do. That 13 year old is now 43. And I'm still me, but more so. What makes art and music and films and anything matter is that they still speak to us, and as we go through life, the music still speaks to us now. Pet Shop Boys songs are universal ; if you are open to them.
Seeing the show several months down the line from its opening night, there have been some changes : “Opportunities” and “Heart” have been added, “West End Girls” has moved from second place, and the pacing is still a little fragile and uneven. “Twenty Something” has been rotated out, and others moved in. The staging has been expanded, with a deft combination of functional and form. The musicians streamlined slightly, but its still a show where you clearly get your money's worth. A night where, thanks to deft career advice and great songs, Pet Shop Boys once again avoid being a nostalgia act and remain in the here and now. There, but for the grace of Heaven 17, go I.
Oh, and lasers. More lasers than a Star Wars film. Much Laser. So wow.
There's a determindedly historic feel to the show : they know what you came here for, and are unashamed entertainers : there's only a third of their new record here, a steady flow of material through the rest of their career, and an abundance of older hits. But the older hits have been rebuilt and revisited. It's not nostalgia, but a history lesson.
The material is also prepared thematically to follow the course of a night out – hope, romance, and dancing : aside from a opening salvo, there's a middle section focused on love – from eschewing it as a concept to, a few short songs later, giving in : “Love Comes Quickly” is still one of the finest songs of surrender to emotion that I've ever heard. Instead of building a mystique, the band lifted the veil with only their second hit, and being sincere before anyone really worked out how much of it was a artistic conceit.
Moving on from this, “The Dictator Decides” opens a more subdued segment that touches on the complex political situation – the same themes they've been exploring for decades, but as commentary, not polemic. That in the midst of this, there's a world outside. And we know this. But let us not forget a world without dancing, or art, or love is not a world worth having. The final part of the set, moves from dancing to what, in the 1800's, was called 'horizontal refreshment' : where sex is sinful and decadent, and lovely. Was it worth it? Yes, it's worth living for.
It's difficult to read the crowd though : some shows I look at the public before, and I know who is going and who isn't. Here the PSB's appeal is so broad I can't tell. It looks like they could be waiting for a bus or in a restaurant. There is no predefined fan as such, just a wide range of humans. And the crowd are difficult, they all seem to want a version of the band that really only appears towards the end ; a relentless hits machine. Around the time “Vocal” begins with a deafeningly gorgeous bass drum, and the lasers go into overdrive, and then, we're all here, we're all at that moment, after the peaks and troughs, the release, the euphoric, silly costumes & lasers part of the show that turns these old men of electronic entertainment into a forcefed irresistable pop machine : assuming you like them of course, tonight is another evening that makes all the other stuff worth it.
Never got old. Never went down the dumper. Still super.
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
West End Girls
Home And Dry
The Sodom & Gomorrah Show
It's A Sin
Left To My Own Devices
Always On My Mind
The Pop Kids (reprise)