Take an English architectural icon and place between it and Old Father Thames a pairing of English pop icons. Add a variety of costumes, classy visuals, a stellar back catalogue ripe for mining and a well received new album. Bless with good weather, sit back and enjoy the spectacle of Pet Shop Boys at the Tower of London Festival of Music.
Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe have lately returned to the sound that made them after a flirtation with acoustica a few years back. New album Fundamental, a winning electro-noir mix of political pointedness and personal observation, is here given a live showcasing. Reasonably enough, the new tracks are spliced up with the Pets’ vast back catalogue of hits. The audience, an enlightening mix of every age, sexuality and level of flamboyance imaginable, know the words and are busy singing and dancing along, frustrated only by the outdoor venue’s all seated layout and the venue staff’s insistence on shoehorning everyone into their allocated rows.
From where we are, Neil Tennant seems to be the approximate size of a grasshopper, albeit a dapperly dressed one. Costumes, worn by the duo and a clutch of bounding dancers, include medalled military, dandy hat-and-tails evening wear, cowboy fatigues and police uniforms.
The set got underway with the sinister pulses of new track Psychological followed by oldie fan pleaser Left To My Own Devices. Rumblings about compromised sound from the night before were not confirmed – Tennant’s every word was loud and clear despite the temporary, outdoor nature of the venue.
Recent single I’m With Stupid was cheered as well as Devices, and the crowd eat out of Tennant’s hand as the familiar keyboard riff of Suburbia, written astonishingly nearly a quarter of a century ago, kicks off.
In quick succession then were next single Minimal, which segued from 2006 back 20 years to Shopping, Rent and the still fabulous Elvis cover Always On My Mind – sadly of course without original collaborator, the late Dusty Springfield. By this time two huge egg-like cut-outs of Tennant and silent synth guru Lowe’s faces had appeared on a stage so filled with detail that it was difficult to keep up with. Changes were seemless, with lookalike dancers filling in during costume changes and the whole combined to make for a show in every sense of the word. Another cover followed – their energetic disco rebuild of U2‘s Where The Streets Have No Name.
The Sodom and Gomorrah Show in such surroundings seemed less sinister than on Fundamental, but in the set fitted well between debut single West End Girls and Opportunities. Compelling closer Integral, the highlight of Fundamental, proved live to be one of the duo’s strongest songs yet.
The encore happily mined the duo’s past hits – they’ve had 33 to date to choose from, after all. An all guns blazing It’s A Sin and still flamboyantly mad Go West predictably go down a storm. Half way to a definitive greatest hits set and partly fresher than an act this established ought to be, the show struck the right balance, pleasing fans with favourites and convincing there’s plenty more where they came from. Entirely reasonably, rapturous applause saw Tennant and Lowe off the stage and into the star-filled night.