Two years had passed since this gig was supposed to take place in May 2020. A whopping two years and 8 months had come and gone since I actually bought the ticket. I am pretty sure that this gig marked the longest COVID delay of my gigging life, and in a particularly happy landmark, it was my final gig that had been booked in pre-COVID times.
In the two months since my last gig, Placebo at the Islington Assembly Hall, my life had been somewhat tumultuous. I’d spent April planning and then taking a trip to Canada to visit my parents, both of whom had suffered massive downturns in health since the beginning of the year. It had been a stressful and difficult trip, but the stress didn’t end upon my return to London in May, as I now found myself busy with preparing to start a new job in June.
Thank god, then, for the Pet Shop Boys, whose greatest hits tour Dreamworld was everything I needed at this point in my life. It’s incredible to reflect that despite a career spanning nearly four decades, this is the first time the Boys have undertaken a tour focussed completely on their unmatched back catalogue of hit singles.
Getting to the arena felt like a bit of a mission on this warm late spring evening. The Tube was oddly packed for a Sunday evening, and the queue to get into the arena was dauntingly huge. Perhaps because of all the turmoil in my life in recent months, I did not find myself in the most gigtastic of spirits as I made my way to my seat towards the back of the floor area, which had a decent view but was much further away from the stage than I like to be.
The show began at around quarter past eight, and my mood was immediately lifted by the sight of the entire floor crowd leaping to their feet as soon as the lights went down and a pulsating Pet Shop Boys medley struck up. After a monologue featuring lyrics from some of their most recognisable hits, the Boys came came on stage to the sound of “Suburbia” while geometric monotone patterns weaved across the screen behind them. They were wearing some sort of metal contraptions on their heads which seemed to obscure their faces, though at the distance I was it was difficult to tell, but their removal a few songs in elicited screams from the crowd.
“Can You Forgive Her” and “Opportunities” zipped along, but it was not until the fourth song in, “Where The Streets Have No Name” that the gig truly ignited into legendary territory for me. I began waving my arms about and dancing like it was 1994, which happened to be the first time I saw the Pet Shop Boys live, and even back then it was the same song that made me forget all my worries and insecurities and start engaging fully with the wonderfulness that was expanding before me. From this point on I felt rejuvenated, with the cobwebs in my mind swept away.
There was a fairly minimal stage set up compared to some other Pet Shop Boys tours I’ve witnessed (and glancing at the list of tours in the programme, I was pleased to discover that I have attended all their tours but the first two, as chronicled here on this blog!). The backing band was revealed at “Left To My Own Devices”, but they were the only extra people on the stage – sadly the remarkable inflated-suit wearing dancers of the Inner Sanctum shows did not make an appearance. The backdrops on the screen ranged from monochrome figures to glowing cityscapes to universes of stars, but nothing was overwhelming or outlandish enough to distract from the tunes, which, let’s face it, are amazing enough in themselves.
I was particularly thrilled to hear “You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You’re Drunk”, one of my all time favourite Pet Shop Boys songs, and rarely performed. For many this achingly gorgeous tune gave them an excuse to sit down or head to the loo or bar, so I had a moment feeling like this perfect song was just for me, as I stood and soaked in its melancholy beauty. Even more perfect, however, was to follow it with the divine and also rarely performed “Jealousy”.
Storming back into the up-tempo numbers with “Always On My Mind” and a particularly spectacular “Heart”, we then got “What Have I Done To Deserve This?”, a duet with their backing keyboard player and singer Claire Uchima. I was slightly disappointed that it wasn’t the fantastic Christine Hizon who had impressed me so much at the Inner Sanctum shows, but all disappointment dissipated as soon as I heard Claire’s immaculate and compelling voice, which so perfectly complemented Neil’s.
Speaking of Neil, his voice sounded particularly strong and clear this night, amazing given he has just celebrated his 68th birthday. The last few songs before the encore took everything into hyperdrive, with “It’s Alright” being the anthem we always need, and “Vocal” as full of glorious rave energy as at the Royal Opera House – though I must admit it did have me hoping for one more reprise of Inner Sanctum before the Boys call it a day.
After an inevitably euphoric “Go West” it was “It’s A Sin” to conclude the main set, again, just as they did at my very first Pet Shop Boys gig, 27 and a half years ago. As always, despite being the song that made me a music fan, and therefore the most important song of my life, it induced no nostalgia, no pining for lost years, just celebration of NOW, and the song that made me the person I am today.
The encore began with a truly magnetic “West End Girls”, and finished with “Being Boring”, again just as my very first Pet Shop Boys gig did. As the people to either side of me made their exit during this song to beat the crowds, I had almost an entire row to myself in which to dance to this tune, and it was a truly glorious moment, watching the Boys backdropped by images of an ever-receding parade of street lamps, as though lighting the way to eternity while the music plays forever.
With so many echoes and reminders of my first ever Pet Shop Boys gig, it was inevitable that the thought crossed my mind that this night at the O2, my 12th gig from the Boys, might be my last. Would they still want to tour throughout the end of their 60s and into their 70s? So it was with great glee that I discovered that they are reprising the Dreamworld tour next your, and even greater elation that I managed to secure a 3rd row ticket. It’s more than 30 years since the Pet Shop Boys enticed me to run away with pop music and never look back, and it’s a wonderful thing that still, after all this time, the adventure continues.