Pet Shop Boys at The Royal Opera House. (Only Covent Garden’s venue requires the definite article).
To call it a triumph would be to suggest that the people who make motorcycles and bras could compete.
What’s puzzling is that a group with that many hits remains undervalued by so many. Not musicians, not critics, but they don’t feature on the 6Music playlist the way New Order or Depeche Mode do. They don’t headline the main stages at festivals. And although their sales in the UK dwarf what they are across the Atlantic, if Madonna, N.W.A. and Green Day can make the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it’s probably about time Pet Shop Boys did.
Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe have sold more than 50 million records, are the most successful duo in UK music history (in your face, Dollar) and most music critics worth their stripe likes them as do W. Axl Rose, Sir Elton John, Madonna, Dame Barbara Windsor, Nicolas Winding Refn and countless others.
The Covent Garden residence paid back the love in nuggets of pop gold. Regular collaborators like designer Es Devlin and engineer Pete Gleadall who made their Pandemonium tour such a joy are back with new friends like the extraordinary drummer Afrika Green and Musical Director Stuart “Jaques Lu Cont” Price, producer of Kylie, Madonna and the last two PSBs album. Price once told Spin magazine “To this day, I’ve never figured out if I want to be Neil or Chris.”
Both, surely. The answer to the question ‘Who’s the cool one in Pet Shop Boys?’ can only be “he is”.
Chris, the enigma clad in sportswear from Blackpool who wrote and produced a record for Arsenal striker Ian Wright because he was a die-hard Gooner.
The man who once gave an interview to Entertainment tonight saying:-
“I don’t like Country & Western.
I don’t like rock music.
Erm…I don’t like, I don’t like Rockabilly.
– Rock’n’roll in particular –
I don’t like much, really, do I?
But what I do like, I love passionately”
These words were then sampled and turned into one of their ‘80s B-sides, Paninaro. (Sadly not played on the same stage where Sutherland, Domingo and Callas belted it out).
Neil, who thanked “front of house staff” (which other pop singers know what front of house staff are, or what they do???), informed us that the venue used to be a dance hall in the Second World War (as it was this week). He quotes Noel Coward, Stephen Sondheim & David Bowie as influences and says things in interviews like “especially these days, I don’t think crying is necessarily a sign of sincerity.” He is also cool. In the way that Dennis Hopper and vodka-tonic with ice are both cool in different ways, so are Neil and Chris.
The concert was a joyous experience displaying the breadth of the latter back catalogue with Inner Sanctum, Love Is a Bourgeois Construct, Inside a Dream alongside West End Girls, It’s a Sin and a fair smattering of ‘00s Shoppies like Love Etc, Home And Dry and New York City Boy. The joyous encores Always On My Mind, where Tennant and Lowe were joined by Es Devlin’s inflatable creations who looked like the Michelin Men by way of New Order’s True Faith tyre-men on a diet of jelly babies.
The show was part car-park rave, part-Blake’s Seven, part operatic set of stories with costume changes and a rotating cast list. And lasers.
What was striking is with 32 years or recorded material was what was missing. Absent: Heart, Rent, Suburbia, What Have I Done to Deserve This, Can You Forgive Her and most egregious of all, Being Boring. In fact, nothing from their masterpiece Behaviour. They didn’t do We All Feel Better In The Dark either, but that would have been asking a lot.
Very few acts deserve to be classified as adjectives. Above all, this was a thoroughly Pet Shop Boys evening.