Coming towards the end of their current Super Tour, the Pet Shop Boys stop off in Birmingham. The arena is reduced in capacity, with the upper tiers screened off, and there are still a few isolated empty seats, but face value of premium tickets was in excess of £80, and with ridiculous parking fees and drinks fees this quickly could become an expensive night out.
Merchandise will also empty your wallet from £20 for a programme to £100 for a signed lithograph poster. There is no support on these dates and we are told the show starts at 8pm prompt, but there appears to be some technical issues side-stage and men are walking about with cables and equipment and eventually the house lights go down at 20.35.
There are blinding lights on the stage edge which temporarily stun you, done on purpose to allow Chris Lowe and Neil Tennant to take their spots behind two huge white circle boards, onto which a dazzling light show begins, with circles being a recurring theme throughout the evenings light show (see the Super album graphics and you get the idea behind the circle theme). Eventually the boards turn to reveal Tennant and Lowe stood there, Lowe with a huge metal cage-type head covering, (think crash helmet) and Tennant similar but his is opened to reveal his face (and allow vocals). Opening with ‘Inner Sanctum’ the sound is perfect, and it’s a very polished performance.
The backdrop finally falls away to reveal the backing musicians; two percussionists and a keyboard player, who also plays violin. All will provide excellent backing vocals throughout and wonderful harmonies. ‘The Pop Kids’ sums up Tennant and Lowe, and it’s a very tongue in cheek, but when they’re stood in front of you in a shirt and tie and a metal head covering it’s hard not to smile.
The new album, Super, is well represented tonight, but it’s the older songs that get the crowd dancing and it’s hard to believe they have now been playing over 35 years.
There are a few clothing changes tonight, with Tennant changing his jacket and donning a fur hat during “The Dictator Decides” but for the most part Lowe is back in trademark baseball cap and sunglasses. He speaks no words at all.
Some older songs (can we say classics?) are “given a makeover” and during ‘Go West’ we initially get the intro to ‘Heart’ just to tease us a little, and the stage reveals what I can only describe as huge balls, which glow and flash, and are very effective. There also must be mention of the strobes and lasers which are stunning and during ‘Inside a Dream’ you could be forgiven for thinking you were in a rave, the bass sound was on a par with anything done by Faithless. For me it was the standout song of the night, but the 2013 Electric album is a personal favourite. ‘Vocal’ also is played tonight from the album, “this is my kind of music….every track has a vocal”. This song just sums up the evening.
An encore of ‘Domino Dancing’ and ‘Always on my Mind’ and there’s the obligatory band introductions ending with “This is Chris Lowe and I’m Neil Tennant” before a reprise of ‘The Pop Kids’ just to remind you if you were in any doubt of what they are.
It is a perfect end to what has been a truly brilliant show. I saw the Pet Shop Boys on their first ever tour, when they were experimenting with surround sound speakers and lots of visual design. They have lost none of that visual stimulation and with such a huge back catalogue it’s quite some feat to choose a set list, and decide what songs to miss out. They could’ve played for 4 hours and still only scratched the surface of their back catalogue.
As it was they played for just shy of 2 hours and picked a perfect set, everyone was happy and left after seeing a brilliant show. For a band who didn’t play live for some years in their early career, they are now masters of the live show, easily transferring their immense studio skills onto the live stage.
Opportunities (Let’s make lots of money)
The Pop Kids
In The Night
Love is a Bourgeois Construct
New York City Boy
Se A Vida E (That’s the way Life is)
Love Comes Quickly
The Dictator Decides
Inside a Dream
West End Girls
Home and Dry
The Sodom and Gomorrah Show
It’s a Sin
Left to my Own Devices
Always on My Mind
The Pop Kids (Reprise)
Reviewer – Glenn Raybone
Photographer – Chris Bowley