Pet Shop Boys live review in London by Ryan Beardsley
The irony isn’t lost on me as I strolled down Wembley way towards the Ovo Arena, one Harry Styles is headlining the arena tonight and the street resembles a pride parade, a sea of people set to worship at the altar of the queen of queerbaiting. Less than 100 yards away, genuine gay icons the Pet Shop Boys are on stage, two men who risked it all to be a voice for the voiceless, not a marketing initiative to extract cash and sentiment from the gullible, I digress.
Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe hit the stage to some 15,000 adoring fans, sporting ceremonial headdresses which must make it largely impossible to see, but by God they do look fantastic! They kick off with Suburbia, a perfect example of their unmatched ability to create a song about a serious political issue (the still infamous poll tax riots) and turn it into an unabashed pop hit. Followed by Opportunities, a track just as brilliant and relevant as a satire on capitalism in 2023 as it was in the yuppie glory years.
The Ovo Arena is in full on party mode for a mash up of U2 and Frankie Valli, when I Love You Baby kicks in the atmosphere is akin to a carnival and I can’t remember the last time I witnessed such a sea of happy faces.
Visually, we get a mix of minimalist set design, two lamp posts at either side of the stage, the kitchen sink mentality juxtaposed with the brash outlandish nature of the songs hits home on the early numbers from their ‘imperial phase’. At other points the stage is converted into something resembling an Ibiza superclub DJ booth, much more fitting for the performances of It’s Alight and Vocal.
We get a bit of conversation from Tennant, reflecting on how he wrote a handful of hits including Monkey Business and Domino Dancing, for which he lets the crowd do the honours for the chorus. The crowd are on backing vocals again for a chaotic version of Go West, a true guilty pleasure but when everyone is in on the fun, why not?
There’s a number of costume changes throughout and it’s at this point I realise that I can’t believe Neil Tennant is pushing 70, he still looks fantastic and is walking, singing charisma as he glides across the www. When he introduces You Were Always On My Mind it’s something akin to a religious experience for those in attendance, begging the question, has there ever been a band better at making others hits, their own?
It’s a Sin ends the setlist proper, a song that has taken on even further meaning if it were possible after Russell T Davies’ Aids saga borrowed its title. Tennant strolls around the stage in his metallic, silver trench coat, the voice of an entire culture, and when I glance around at my fellow revellers, I’m greeted with a mixture of hedonism and tears, a genuinely moving spectacle that I won’t forget in a hurry.
There’s time for one last costume change as Neil Tennant dons the overcoat and tie to finish with West End Girls. Forty years on and it still sounds more dangerous, mysterious and inviting than anything you’ll hear today.
Superlatives are oft overused. Words like genius, legendary and icon have become somewhat meaningless as they’re tossed around with abandon, attributed to mediocre performers who will be forgotten just as swiftly as they arrived, but tonight we can use such terms, safe in the knowledge they are completely justified.
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