My fourth time seeing the Pet Shop Boys, and a more muted version of the band than usual – but still a wonderful night.
I was a little bit apprehensive as I headed out to the Brixton Academy this summer night in 2002. Not about the gig itself – one of my most beloved bands playing at my favourite venue in London is surely a prospect designed to fill me with joy. The Pet Shop Boys had released their eighth album “Release” in April, and while I hadn’t quite fallen for its mellow, acoustic-guitar drenched styling as much as I had for previous PSB albums, I was curious to see what this new no-frills version of the group would be like in a live setting.
But something unusual was happening this time: I was not going to the gig alone. For when I’d mentioned a few weeks previously to a work friend that I was going to see the Pet Shop Boys, she immediately decided that she and one of her mates would tag along. Readers of this blog will be well aware that I vastly preferred to attend gigs on my own in my 20s – as I’d discovered at my very first Pet Shop Boys gig in 1994 – and so I felt a little uncomfortable about having to share. From my diary:
“I was apprehensive about sharing this gig with not only Kate but also a stranger, her mate Barry. But I needn’t have worried, Barry turned out to be a nice bloke, kind of shy but sweet. And Kate was cheerful and full of childish excitement. To think I thought I was out of the swing of gigging just ‘cos nine months had passed between MSP at the Scala and Suede at the RFH – Barry hadn’t been to a gig for three years, and Kate hadn’t been for nine!“
And it turned out that, despite a few trivial irritations, things started well in one of my rare early forays into Social Gigging. “I was not utterly thrilled that they wanted to have something to eat before going to the venue, but it actually turned out quite well ‘cos it meant that by the time we got in we only had about 15 minutes to wait ‘til the Boys were on!”
We found a spot in the centre just under the balcony and had a good view but not much dancing space, “which prompted many complaints from Kate.” The view was perhaps not of massive importance anyway, for this was very much a straightforward Pet Shop Boys experience, unembellished by any of the glitz or unconventional costumery of previous tours. “Of all the PSB tours I’ve witnessed this was by far the most basic, completely untheatrical, not a trace of camp, ‘twas virtually an indie gig. This prospect troubled me somewhat at first, and indeed the opening few tunes – “Home and Dry”, “Being Boring” and “Red Letter Day”, though thoroughly fine, did not exactly set the universe on fire.”
But the momentum soon picked up a bit, first with a “swayalong” rendition of “I Get Along” from their latest album, and then with “the most brilliant version of “Love Comes Quickly” we were finally in Fab Gig Land. The two guitarists’ squall of feedback brought out a dark undercurrent of sinister melancholy and it became a wondrous monster of a song.”
And we had more “nice tunes” like “London”, and “New York City Boy” which was “rousing“, but nothing could really compare to the 80s classics. “It was utterly storming renditions of tunes like “Where the streets have no name”, “Always on my mind” and “Domino Dancing” that got the crowd really moving. “
I will admit I was pining somewhat for the previous PSB era, but still found a lot to love this night. “I really miss the pulsating strobelight joys of “Nightlife”, but I couldn’t really complain when they presented us with the gorgeous “Birthday Boy” and the truly sad and wonderful “Love is a catastrophe”. ” They then stormed back into the classics with “West End Girls” and “Go West” to close the main set, “which had even Kate’s reserved mate punching the air in glee“.
Unlike with previous Pet Shop Boys concerts, where the boys would frequently stride on in a series of ever more outlandish outfits, this time they were “entirely normal, and I could not see Chris at all anyway, and the lighting seemed designed to obscure as much as possible of the people on stage.” But this more humdrum visual approach barely seemed to matter by the end of the show, especially with an encore of “utter genius“, comprised of two of the Boys’ most rousing tunes: “Left to my own devices” and “It’s a sin”. “Huge storming versions. We danced our little hearts out and I had the novel experience of being able to turn to Kate as we shouted “it’s a sin!” to each other. This going to gigs with friends concept is all right, as it turns out.”
We stumbled off to the tube completely shattered – at 27 I was definitely feeling the effects of a night of dancing and singing much more than I did when I was 22. “I feel every gig I attend this year will be followed by laments of ‘I’m FAR too old for this!!’.” Ah, just wait ’til you’re stumbling out of a moshpit at 44, Scruffy!
So, gigging with mates turned out, despite my apprehensions, to be Quite Okay, and I would go to another Pet Shop Boys concert with Kate and Barry in 2009. In fact, my very next gig was planned to be another social outing with a different friend – though, as you’ll see in my next post, it didn’t quite turn out as intended.