While I’ve been a long-term fan of the Pet Shop Boys, their transformation in recent years into a band that plays festivals has been most surprising. The theatricality of the present Electric tour is upfront from the start, yet the most engaging moments came when the audience was able to chant along with songs that are in danger of becoming stadium standards – It’s a Sin, Go West and West End Girls. And chant they did.
Electric is the latest international tour by the Pet Shop Boys, who have hit on a simple and adaptable format to their performances. Using front-projection, minimalist but distinctive staging, and a couple of dances who give the stage some kinetic energy. Electric is a neon blancmange sprinkled with multicoloured hundreds-and-thousands, and is closer to the early 1990s Performance tour than anything they have done for a while.
I don’t know many concerts that start off behind a screen projected with computer graphics of the band, overlaid with cut-up and scratched video montages of modern dance performances. The Pet Shop Boys have always eschewed pandering to the audience, and I don’t doubt that this full-on postmodern approach left many in the audience feeling displaced. Thinking they had come to a pop concert, instead they got a hyper-realist revisualisation of the stage as an early 1980s computer graphic display.
I’m not a fan of the O2 as a music venue, as it’s wide-open space and high roof dissipates the sound of the crowd and takes away the atmosphere of a more intimate performance. Likewise, the churning-out of the hits, and there are a lot of hits from a band that has been around for twenty-five years, means that key moments of intensity don’t have as much space to breath as they should. Lasers are clearly back in vogue though, and converted the cavernous space of the O2 from a de-industrial shed into a space of light and wonder.
That said, this isn’t a show that panders only to the greatest hits, though there are many, including Domino Dancing, Always on My Mind and I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind of Thing. There was a significant proportion of favourite album tracks and more recent, but perhaps less widely known singles. I’m Not Scared is a seldom performed track that was well positioned as a reminder of the song writing strengths of Chris Lowe and Neil Tennant. The surprise of the set was Invisible, from last years album Elysium, which has a less beat-driven intimacy, but really opened up the arena in a more expansive gesture.
While it shouldn’t work, Vocal, which will be the Pet Shop Boys new single, really caught the mood of the whole performance, which is difficult to do when it is the final track of the encore. An homage to youthful discovery, Vocal charts the intersection of a naive hedonistic enjoyment of music and dancing, and the more mental rationalisation and intellectualisation that trys to explain what it’s about. Vocal was a clear favourite, despite the vast majority of the audience never having heard it before.
If you get the chance to see Electric at some point over the summer you will have to travel to Europe to do so. Lets hope that this show is brought back to the UK so we can get a second chance to work out what it was all about.