Some people will do anything for charity; even watch their favourite band at the Royal Albert Hall. Pet Shop Boys sell out the final night of Roger Daltrey’s Teenage Cancer gigs, and it’s a chance to indulge their reflective side in spirit of the evening with the pumping pop sitting (mostly) on the bench.
By 1991 Pet Shop Boys had replaced sampled orchestra with a real one for the single version of Jealousy, and no one really noticed. Well, they do tonight: the presence of the 66-piece Royal Philharmonic is unmistakable, and as they launch into a jaw-dropping full-length version of Left To My Own Devices (complemented by opera singer Sally Bradshaw) you wonder where they have left to go.
Too often these days music sounds like it’s not only written on laptops, but by laptops. It’s a criticism that Pet Shop Boys shrugged off years ago, but any remaining rock snobs will be disorientated by the presence of Johnny Marr, a long-term collaborator with Tennant and Lowe since 1991’s Behaviour, and of course Electronic.
Marr finds himself part of the orchestra, albeit under spotlight, and is introduced for Tonight Is Forever; its bedsit dreams perfectly finding a new home in Kensington opulence. Its spine-tingling riff from the horn section powers a youthful hymn to hedonism that remains tantalisingly out of reach. It’s perfect.
Their Liza Minnelli version of Rent replaces the original’s seediness with Broadway, and you have to wonder what Morrissey would make of Marr grinning throughout his disco wah-wah guitar of New York City Boy. However, Marr is occasionally so low in the mix that you wonder if he’s plugged in.
There’s a sumptuously electronic Miracles, and another highlight is The Survivors, which Tennant quips as from the ‘underrated’ Bilingual album. It’s a rich wave of hope and snatched romance of London’s West End and Embankment gardens.
Tennant recently joked that he might find Pet Shop Boys annoying if he wasn’t in them, and as he quotes from Othello for the dramatic opening of Jealousy you can see why – but seeing Lowe playing chords he first wrote in his parents’ dining room at the grandest piano, you can forgive them anything.
The second half takes unexpected detours through even the most rabid fan boy’s playlist, which might have tested the casual fan. But, even a full orchestra can’t save Hold On. It’s so middle of the road that you wish a ten-ton truck might run it down, but instead it plods to its twee conclusion. Fans will scrap over better alternatives from Tennant/Lowe’s imperial catalogue for years to come.
Things pick up with Marr’s slide guitar on For All Of Us and the drifting west coast acoustic melancholia of Breathing Space. The strutting crunch of Can You Forgive Her? makes a welcome appearance, with their call to arms: ‘she’s made you some kind of laughing stock/because you dance to disco and you don’t like rock.’
While It Couldn’t Happen Here is huge enough to make the auditorium feel small, He Dreams Of Machines, their unreleased ode to Alan Turing, takes an unexpected route; its Bladerunner moodiness is as far from Go West as possible (which is, thankfully, absent tonight). They revert to pop as Sally Bradshaw returns for a triumphant It’s alright.
Johnny Marr probably spends his time while not playing reflecting upon how good his guitar playing was on This Must Be The Place I Waited Years To Leave. It’s either that, or exploring the thin line between louche and irritation that only invitation to Bernard Sumner stands between them delivering pop music’s high tide mark of Electronic’s Getting Away With It. It’s probably absent because it’s not ‘official’ Pet Shop Boys-canon. It is a missed opportunity, and their artistic purity is rather contrary, but then that’s probably why we love the Pet Shop Boys so much.
Full Set List:
Left to My Own Devices (with Sally Bradshaw)
Tonight Is Forever
This Must Be the Place I Waited Years to Leave (with Johnny Marr)
New York City Boy
The Survivors (with Johnny Marr)
Leaving (with Johnny Marr)
Jealousy (with Johnny Marr)
It Couldn’t Happen Here
For All of Us (with Johnny Marr)
Can You Forgive Her?
Breathing Space (with Johnny Marr)
He Dreamed of Machines
Requiem in Denim and Leopardskin (with Johnny Marr)
Indefinite Leave to Remain (with Johnny Marr)
West End Girls (with Johnny Marr)
It’s Alright (with Sally Bradshaw and Johnny Marr)
It’s a Sin (with Johnny Marr)
My debut The Life Assistance Agency, chosen as part of WHSmith Fresh Talent, is a thrilling and farcical road trip around Europe. ‘This is what would happen if the Blues Brothers went on a search for the Holy Grail.’
it can be bought here: myBook.to/lifeassistance and here:
and on ebook here –