Pet Shop Boys review – kitchen sink dramas turned into wild extravaganza

AO Arena, Manchester
Drawing on an astonishing 40-year career, the pop duo straddle such a wide range of emotion: from tenderness to thrills, sometimes simultaneously

Judging from the demographic here, the 2022 Pet Shop Boys audience stretches from 18-year-old girls to middle-aged men in suits, hen parties to arty intellectuals. Their vast constituency reflects the electro-pop pair’s status as British pop’s biggest-selling duo, and a musical reach that stretches from Italian house to Tchaikovsky samples.

Singer Neil Tennant and synth man Chris Lowe are also premier pop showmen. This latest outing begins relatively minimally – with street lamp-posts staging for early hit Suburbia – before Left to My Own Devices unveils the live (electronic) percussionists and retina-combusting computer graphics powering their spectacle.

The two-hour, 26-song extravaganza spans a 40-year career and springs some surprises. Tennant, presumably selecting his various bonkers costumes from a box marked “genial Bond villain”, becomes an unlikely acoustic guitar balladeer for Drunk. He reveals that Domino Dancing was inspired by a friend’s “victory dance” after playing dominoes in a cheap hotel in Saint Lucia and that 2020’s excellent Monkey Business is titled after something said to them by a cheeky Texan cowboy.

Pet Shop Boys

Their songs are like miniature kitchen sink dramas – the couple struggling with fidelity in It’s Hard, the painful reminders of a break-up in Losing My Mind, or the power imbalances in Rent. Tennant, unfeasibly now 67, brings delicate thespian touches – a shrug of the shoulder or wagging finger (in It’s a Sin) – and is one of our most unmistakable vocalists, his inimitable tones somehow capable of expressing excitement and yearning at the same time.

There’s a tender moment as the singer dedicates a gentle Being Boring to the lives lost in the pandemic and this venue’s bombing, five years ago this weekend. Otherwise, classic bangers come along with indecent regularity. Lowe dons his 80s “BOY” cap for West End Girls, while other highlights include a beautifully melancholy Love Comes Quickly and an insanely catchy Heart. Band member Clare Uchima excels in the Dusty Springfield role for a sublime What Have I Done to Deserve This. “Fabulous!” yells Tennant, and this is.

• At O2 Arena, London, Sunday, then touring.


Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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