Fun with cubes and bowler hats: this is the Pet Shop Boys live in 2007.
It was spring 2007, and I was fully stuck into my 30s, having just celebrated my 32nd birthday in March. Much more significantly for me, I was once again in a new home. Having spent 2006 in a flatshare with two younger women who, much as I liked them, were just a bit too party-friendly for my liking, I had decided at the end of the year that I was officially Too Old For This and went looking for a flat of my own. I found a studio in Tooting Bec that was within my budget and moved there on the 13th of January 2007. So, for the first time in my life, I had my own home, not shared with anyone else, and it was bliss. I would end up staying in that flat for 11 and a half years, and in fact I was still living there when I started this blog at the end of 2017.
Although I remember 2007 as a pretty good year, it was not without its challenges. Work, in particular, was very trying. I’d been in the same job in the Outpatients department of the Royal Brompton Hospital for over ten years at this point, and the increasing expectations of responsibility placed on my shoulders with no hint of an increase in pay were becoming more and more intolerable. On the day of this gig, my mood was not helped by the unseasonably inclement May we were experiencing. From my diary, before heading out to this gig:
‘Grimmest weekend ever, weather-wise. The sky is the most impenetrable bright white-grey layer of cloud, with showers spluttering on interminably. But never mind! For the Week of Glee is upon us. Pet Shop Boys tonight, Manics on Wednesday, and on Friday, me and Glam Best Friend are going to the filming of an episode of QI! So, there’s much to look forward to, even if I have to stride through gales of hail and showers of sleet to get there.‘
(I will, of course, get to reporting on said Manics gig in my next post, but as I’m unlikely to do an All The TV Episode Filmings Of My Life series, I will just report here that the QI episode we saw filmed was “Eyes and Ears” from the fifth series, and was even more riotously hilarious than the eventual broadcast episode.)
And so out I strode into the torrential London spring to see the Pet Shop Boys. They were touring their ninth album “Fundamental”. I must admit that this is not an album of theirs that had any great impact on me compared to many of their previous albums such as “Actually” or “Nightlife”, but I enjoyed it well enough. And of course, it’s always worth the effort to make it to the Pet Shop Boys’ fantastic live shows, whatever album they may be touring.
I’m happy to report that I managed to write a whole paragraph in my diary for this gig, although it’s not my most sparkling work, made up simply of a list of highlights from the show:
‘Dancers and singers dressed up like Neil and Chris. ‘Suburbia’ with black hoodied breakdance fighting. ‘Minimal’ morphing into the equally alphabetic ‘Shopping’. ‘Dreaming of the Queen’ in funeral style with scenes of Diana’s body being brought back to London, the gathered masses chucking flowers as Neil sings ‘for there were no more lovers left alive, and that’s why love has died’. Best of all, the huge Neil and Chris faces with their backing singers popping up from behind like the taunting Frenchman in ‘The Holy Grail’ wearing a succession of ever more ludicrous hats: a blow-up guitar, a Mexican type thing, a million gleaming yellow flowers.’
So once again I find myself turning to the DVD to give context to these memories and jog a few more. The show opens, as mentioned, with a pair of dancers and a pair of backing singers dressed exactly like the two Pet Shop Boys – Neil in a black suit and bowler hat, and Chris in a neon yellow jacket. The show is minimal, but not quite as no-frills as the Release tour. The main setting is a huge square light box at the back of the stage which is eventually revealed to conceal two others behind it, and throughout the show various images are projected on it.
The highlights I noted above still stand out on the DVD. The rendition of “Shopping” is particularly effective, with the backing singers, now in suits, boogieing in an 80’s style with their stalwart supporting singer Sylvia bumping the blokes on the bum with her handbag. And the rarely performed “Dreaming of the Queen”, one of my favourite songs from the “Very” album, remains incredibly moving, as Neil removes his hat and bows his head while the coffin is driven past.
What hits me the most watching the DVD is the fact that so many classic hits were rolled out, including some lesser performed songs like “Where The Streets Have No Name” or “Can You Forgive Her”, and pretty much every single hit from their imperial phase of the late 80s, including an utterly storming rendition of my favourite Pet Shop Boys song of them all, “It’s A Sin”, in the encore. The fact that I could witness a gig like this, full of so many legendary tunes, and only record a few paltry moments of it in my diary is somewhat mind-boggling to me now.
All of which means that watching the DVD makes me feel mildly annoyed at my 32 year old self, being so blasé to the goddamn privilege of being able to see this incredible Pet Shop Boys live show, that I couldn’t be bothered to write more than a few lines about it when I got home. Of course, much of this frustration is motivated by the fact that it is currently April 2021, and there’s been no live music for over a year. This includes, of course, the much anticipated Pet Shop Boys greatest hits tour which should have taken place last May, and for a while might have taken place next month, but is now over a year away in May 2022.
But there’s no way I could have known this in May 2007, of course. And the most important thing is that I had a fantastic time that night, regardless of whether I decided to record it for posterity. And as we are, finally, on our way out of the life of lockdowns and restrictions, next spring – 15 years on from this fantastic Hammersmith gig – I will have another equally fantastic night to look forward to at the O2.