My third Pet Shop Boys concert, and one of my favourite eras of the band. Which makes it all the more annoying that I have hardly any memories of it.
In 1999 the Pet Shop Boys released their seventh album “Nightlife” which quickly became an absolute favourite of mine. The combination of darkly sweeping synths and monochrome melancholia in tracks like “You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You’re Drunk” made this probably my most listened-to album of the year, and I was incredibly excited to see them live for the third time.
Unfortunately, this gig fell directly in the middle of a very tumultuous time in my social life. The drama within my friend group that had been troubling me when I’d gone to see the Super Furry Animals the previous month had reached a turbulent peak, and I found myself ostracized from them in a move by the person I had thought of as the closest friend I’d ever had. Suffice it to say that December 1999 was a period full of messy emotion and painful conversations – all the more so because I still had to see all these people at work every day.
You would think, then, that the opportunity to see a band that meant to much to me would have brought some light and levity to a troubled time, and probably it did. But unfortunately, I was so wrapped up in dissecting my personal turmoil within the pages of my diary that I only wrote two passing sentences about this gig, which are as follows:
“Then of course there was the Pet Shop Boys concert on the 20th, for which I seem to have lost the ticket stub, disasters. It was wonderful, all the old tunes rejigged in a ’99 stylee to match their fantastic latest album “Nightlife” which is their greatest since “Actually”, no less.”
Which is not quite enough to write a blog post about. Luckily, the band released a live DVD of this tour, “Montage”, which I hadn’t previously watched, so this seemed alike a great opportunity to reacquaint myself with this wonderful era of the Pet Shop Boys.
Watching the DVD however, it’s hard to get a sense of actually being at the gig. The “Montage” premise means overlaying the visuals which were on the massive screens with footage of the band taken from several US and German gigs. It’s very effective, but with fewer audience shots than most live DVDs, it makes it hard to relive the gig vibe.
There is a dark, mournful feeling to the first brace of tunes, from the genius opener of “West End Girls” through the regret-tinged “Discoteca” and a terrifyingly raved-up “Being Boring”. It all feels especially downbeat in comparison to the joyous Royal Opera House shows where I most recently saw the band. It’s easy to imagine this might have matched my mood as I stood in Wembley arena on that extremely-late-20th-century evening. The air of melancholy in the music came in stark contrast to the physical appearance of the Boys however. The PSBs spent the 90s in a series of ever more ridiculous outfits, of which the “Nightlife” era was the preposterous zenith, with spiky, mad-professor wigs, tiny circular sunglasses and long flowing skirts
A lighter mood prevails after “New York City Boy”, one of the few songs from this era which survives into modern PSB setlists. There’s also, interestingly, an acoustic interlude which too is for the most part upbeat. I can’t recall the Boys inserting an acoustic set into previous tours, and so its appearance here seems to foretell the band’s more straightforward, guitar-based “Release” era which was to arrive in a couple of years.
There are a couple of moments of the DVD that seem to spark a genuine sense of recollection in me, of having witnessed this myself: The euphoric, spinning lights that herald the beginning of “Closer To Heaven”, reminiscent of the visualisations from Windows Media Player that music fans would come to know so well at the beginning of the 2000s, and the images of Dusty Springfield that take over the screens as the band launch into “What Have I Done To Deserve This”.
Mostly, though, watching this makes me really wish I had more of a record of my thoughts about it at the time. Which means of course, what I really wish is that I had been in a place in December 1999 where I felt able to write about it, rather than focusing on personal turmoils and dramas. But the good news is that this was a blip. By the time my next gig came along only eleven days later, I was back to my usual habits of writing extensively about every single minute detail. Which is a good thing, as it was one of the greatest gigs of my life.
And the Pet Shop Boys at Wembley 1999 may also have been one of the greatest gigs of my life – but with so little written down about it, I’ll never know. Sadly, it remains another frustratingly sparse entry in my gigging chronicles.