Pet Shop Boys Live Review @ The O2 Arena (Greenwich) - 19 Jun 2009
24 years ago, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe hit the big-time with a stunningly original and cinematic pop song called "West End Girls" I remember the first time that I heard it – I was in Dunstable, at my first girlfriend's house sharing a conversation with her that hovered between mid-teenage romance angst and utter rejection (she went to a party without me, nice). As I sat on a sofa wondering what on Earth was wrong with wearing a parka to a house party in bland Bedfordshire, PSB filled the lounge with a broad-shouldered anthem that hooked me in within 20 seconds or so as my attractive yet selfish girlfriend filled the room with the smell of freshly squirted Charlie and a resounding "See you later then". I barely registered her shallow verbiage as I listened intently to the triumph of Tennant's special brew oozing from the woofers via Radio1.
24 years later I am sat in the O2 arena listening (and watching) the same song being precisely relayed around a fairly anonymous auditorium that worked for Prince (because you could see him from wherever you were in the seating plan) but not quite for two men who move minimally yet captivate with theatre and performing dancers etc. I smiled as the audience sang along to their most famous hit but, to be fair, the biggest sing along turned out to be the cherished "Being Boring", a single that nose-dived in comparison yet still harbours a soft-spot with the fans. Why did it only reach number 20?
In amongst these two landmark songs are several picks from their recently well-received album "Yes" – "Love Etc" bounces along like a kangaroo on a trampoline and wipes smiles over faces young and old, male and female, "All Over The World" is such an obvious single choice with it's laddish rous-along hook-line and probably receives the biggest cheer of the new songs on offer and "Did You See Me Coming" is PSB doing disco to a disco beat. Cubes of multi-coloured light gleam from the stage and Chris Lowe's dramatic mock DJ-booth and dancers dressed as big squares leap about with gay abandon. Welcome to the Pet Shop Boys' world folks. Maximum quality with minimum effort – not lazy just relaxed and appearing to be enjoying a return to the "Very" pop ethic that propelled them into more living room TVs and bedroom radios than many thought would be possible 10 years after their beginnings on CBS.
On reading the lavish notes in the extravagant tour programme, I learn that the pair have picked these songs for this tour 'because we like them' – a typically nonchalant response to the interviewer's flat question. So it is a pleasure to hear a few rare choices tonight. "Do I Have To?" dissolves into "Kings Cross" plus a hint of "Jealousy" and "Two Divided By Zero" catches up with "Suburbia" (eventually) while "Heart", "Always On My Mind" and "Love Comes Quickly" reminds all of us at how great they are at painting a plaintive picture with panache and pain. I can't think of a low-light but one of the many stand-outs was "It's A Sin", greeted with the kind of response Beckham gets when he plays for England. Nothing gets played from "Release" (no surprise), nothing from "Psychological" (a pity – I like that album) and a few tastings from the menus of "Nightlife" and "Bilingual" are dished up to a reasonable acclaim. "Left To My Own Devices" sounds muffled but generally the sound was pretty spot-on and apart from being late on stage, the boys didn't disappoint.
1985 had a lot to answer for in much the same way 2009 will. But it DID give us a performing band who have quietly and flamboyantly flashed their wholesome pulsating anthems in our faces without being lairy idiots and attention seekers in the tabloid press. Se A Vida E indeed.
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