Thursday, 27 June 2013

Pet Shop Boys Electric Tour - London O2 Arena 18th June 2013


As my first Pet Shop Boys live experience, I didn't know what to expect, but I'd seen their set at Glastonbury on the BBC so I assumed I was due for a spectacle of Morphsuit-sporting box-headed backing dancers and countless costume changes for our two main men. Thankfully, I wasn't disappointed.



But first, allow me to get the worst out of the way - the support act, Jon Hopkins. Now as I'm a prejudiced technophobic, I decided to give this guy a chance, but I couldn't see past the 'oh god please let this end'. Techno dance music doesn't give you a break, it doesn't let you know when one song is over and another begins, the drone becomes one colossal headache as the artist prepares to once again drop the bass. Butterfingers. Or at least that's how I view it. Do you have any idea how agonising it was for me sitting through an act which uses no vocals, no instruments, just one young guy, his laptop and a bottle of cider? You're only on stage for an hour, you're not even singing, do you really need an alcoholic beverage in hand? Sorry, I'm also not a fan of artists who dance like a cat throwing up, so I'm afraid it doesn't seem like me and this guy were meant to be. However, in hindsight, his act is the modern translation of the Pet Shop Boys' earlier work - minus Neil Tennant's vocals. Which are the cement to Chris Lowe's bricks.

After what feels like hours, the big boys arrive on stage. Chris Lowe's keyboard station is rigged like a circuit board - the tour's entitled Electric, obviously. The stage background is a set of horizontal blinds, the kind you see in office buildings and classrooms providing pupils haven't already massacred their metal blades. 

The first three songs were performed behind the cover of a translucent sheet at the front of the stage. Admittedly, those three songs dragged on like nobody's business as every second passed and I dreaded the inevitable - maybe they couldn't take the sheet down, so they'd be stuck behind there all night? Of course, you have to take your expectations of a gig and throw them out of the window when it comes to the Pet Shop Boys, so the sheet was a significant contributor to their system-defying façade. 

The sheet drops. Finally. 

Unfamiliar tracks from their soon-to-be-released album Electric, including a surprise appearance of rapper Example for their collaboration track Thursday, were welcomed warmly as the crowd eagerly awaited familiar hits, and sure enough, they arrived. It's A Sin is a personal favourite, with the traditional biblical red lighting and 'mea culpa' chants.

Backing dancers paraded in animal skull masks with Mötley Crüe wigs on top, a la the Axis video, and I've never wanted a Nikki Sixx haircut more in my life. Their best costume change was by far West End Girls - Slender Man meets The Apprentice. Of course, I'd have taken a photo, but the O2 enforced a photography ban. However, that didn't stop me grabbing one crappy iPhone shot through the gig.

The boys pulled it out of the costume department as always, including a disco ball helmet for Chris Lowe which reflected spotlight glimmer out into the crowd. Love Etc played out as Tennant and Lowe stood strapped into upright beds while writhing young bodies were projected onto the bed sheets. The theme colour of the  Electric tour was orange - orange lab coats on roadies and stage crew, pumpkin-esque ball heads for the dancers, and best of all - an orange fez for Neil Tennant. 

The lighting show was stellar. Tiny green strobe dots shone toward the back wall of the O2 to create an epic firefly dance - something only the Pet Shop Boys can pull off effortlessly.

I can't describe how great it feels to have seen the boys perform the songs I grew up on, from West End Girls to Domino Dancing, they pulled all the best hits out of the bag and cherry-picked some fantastic tracks from the newer albums. I couldn't help but feel a little gutted that my favourite Se A Vida E was left out, but the set was bursting at the seams with classics, it's only to be expected that they'd leave out some great songs. It always amazes me how much of a rapturous response Go West receives, every single person in the crowd goes mad, and I'm instantly reminded of why I'm there - I'm surrounded by like-minded people who love the music of the 80s, whether they lived through them or not.

Now I've always criticised Chris Lowe for his lack of stage work, his only movement being the walk off stage to renew his costume, but I've got to hand it to the man - he can stand still for 2 hours through the catchiest music without a hint of a toe tap.

The unexpected highlight of the night award goes to the anonymous rigging dude who climbed an impossibly thin rope ladder up to a spotlight and received rapturous applause when he reached the top. Well done for doing your perilous job, anonymous dude. And extra kudos to the sound guy in his bright orange lab coat who relentlessly danced through the entire gig. You have better leg muscles than me.

The diverse crowd surrounding us spoke for themselves - the Pet Shop Boys unite people who never thought they'd be united.

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