[sic] Magazine

Pet Shop Boys – London o2 Arena – 19 June 2009

25 years is an age in life. The Pet Shop Boys have, in all this time, remained static, permanent, and yet also, permanently evolving, transforming, morphing. With one man on keyboards and one man on a microphone, the element of ‘live’ performance, and the spectacle thereof, is dry and limited. The Pet Shop Boys don’t even try to put on a traditional show, instead taking the idea of a rock show, and turning it inside out. In some ways, I’m reminded of the megaspectacles and show reels of divas who eschew everything in favour of The Spectacle of dancers, shifting stages, and unusual visuals.

I keep saying it, and it keeps being true, the Pet Shop Boys are the Gilbert & George of Pop, projecting onto their somewhat anonymous visages a variety of masks and images, playing with identity, vision, and reality to create a cohesive and charming worldview that you can sing and dance to. In this world, the staging – based upon boxes, pixels, and colours.

The Spectacle

Twenty years after their first tour, the challenging MCMXVIIII and the subsequent bizarre ‘Performance’, the Pet Shop Boys return to a modern, updated, and thoroughly inventive staging with Pandemonium. By utilising moving and expanding walls, video screens, cannons, and other odd props, they manage to remain constantly interesting, with an ever evolving set of visuals, ideas, and thematic links. Not only that, but the show itself is, well.. a rampage is one word. Songs meld, mix, morph, and move into each other, in and out, over and over. In many ways, it reminds me of Underworld’s highly improvised shows of a decade ago where there was, in effect, one long song of 20 parts. ‘Can You Forgive Her?’, which would occupy the same live space as ‘Heroes’ or ‘Personal Jesus’ or ‘Comfortably Numb’ in the canon, is, here, chucked off in a medley with a new album track. It’s not exactly disrespectful, but then again, if anyone can ascertain the amount of respect due, it’s often the self, and here the Pet Shop Boys are trying, as ever, trying something new, even with something old.


Determinedly nostalgic, the set remains utterly contemporary. With 40 hit singles under their belt, the question is always ‘what not to play’. Unlike some bands, for who you always know where certain songs will appear – and they WILL appear – ‘Comfortably Numb’ at the end, ‘Enjoy The Silence’ for the finale, ‘In-between Days’ in the middle, ‘One’ as the last song of the set, ‘What’s The Frequency Kenneth’ at the beginning – the Pet Shop Boys have never been so obvious. With an assured skill, there’s no sign of ‘Opportunities’, ‘What Have I Done To Deserve This?’, ‘So Hard’, ‘I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind Of Thing’, ‘You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You’re Drunk’. and barely a sniff of any songs from the alleged wilderness of 1997-2007: barring half-played fragments. This somewhat odd staging gives the evening a distinctly retrospective feel that isn’t entirely deserving, and fails to reflect that the Pet Shop Boys have never truly had a duff era – despite falling from commercial grace at the turn of the century, they were always at least, trying something new and interesting.

Copyright Hidden Shine

Back-catelogue – and my, what old songs there are with ‘Do I Have To?’, ‘Kings Cross’, ‘Two Divided By Zero’ and ‘Why Don’t We Live Together’ – all both utterly faithful, and revitalised for the modern age, present and correct ensure this isn’t just a lazy greatest hits set. Not only that, but each song has been rethought. Not rebooted like a bad, lazy movie franchise, but reshaped with a new lick of paint. It’s not all perfect, or even flawless.

Sure, there’s some daft, and preposterous interpretative dance which scuppers ‘Jealousy’ with art-school moves, there’s some ill-advised chunky bass runs in some songs, and a truly bizarre, silly cover of Coldplay’s ‘Viva La Vida’ that morphs into the homo-erotic career-suicide brilliance of ‘Domino Dancing’. There’s an erratic pacing that sees big hits thrown away twenty minutes in, followed by mogadon pacing of obscure-ish, slow album tracks (albeit, crafted, relevant, and still brilliant songs), and occasional mis-steps where the audience are hoping for something slightly more Hit-focused; being that this is the biggest single show they have played in London, that’s not too surprising. The sound suffers slightly as well, and during certain songs – notably not the hits, a hubbub of general conversation coats the venues further reaches, especially during under-rated b-side ‘Do I Have To?’


That said, the new material effortlessly slots into the main hits and oldies as if they have always been there, the songs themselves all are meticulously crafted and combined to complement each other with no shortage of musical or thematic precision and passion, and the staging is certainly far more intelligent, and less dunderheaded than Madonna’s idiotic crucifix poses or Britney dry humping some plastic horse. The show is designed to be thought about, felt, experienced, and if you want to dance to it at the same time, then that’s an extra dimension : interpreting your emotions through rhythm.25 years of a life in Pop is a long time, and if you must live in this world, you may as well make it something worth living.

Gig 8/10, Transport 0/10. I’ve never experienced such an awful, crowded, and heavily delayed, disorganised attempt at getting home in my life. The queues were astronomical, with significant bottlenecks at almost every juncture, and trains packed to capacity waiting ten minutes on platforms without explanation. Rubbish. TFL FAIL.

Pet Shop Boys official website

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For more from Mark please visit The Mark Reed website