Pet Shop Boys live in Hull: four decades of holding pop to a higher standard

Hull Bonus Arena, May 31: the duo's first-ever show in Hull celebrates the band's infallible greatest hits collection, and their ability to constantly stay ahead of the pack

Forty years into their career, NME Godlike GeniusesPet Shop Boys still occupy a unique place in the pop firmament: as likely to soundtrack a ’20s Russian propaganda film as they are to discuss the role of TikTok on pop if you bumped into them on one of their Sunday afternoons in Berlin nightclub Berghain. It’s a distinctive position underlined tonight at their first Greatest Hits tour (and first time playing Hull), which shows the range of styles and subjects tackled in their canon, and is a two-hour joyous celebration of their decades of holding pop to a higher standard.

Dressed in typically outré headgear that looks like a Donnie Darko-styled pandemic visor, vocalist Neil Tennant and ever-deadpan synth-player Chris Lowe open with 1986’s ‘Suburbia’ – accompanied by two street lamps that could have been in those tension-filled suburbs, that are regularly moved around by roadies outfitted as construction workers. Pet Shop Boys long ago reneged on their eighties no-touring policy, and their shows have become increasingly high-concept spectacles of design and choreography. That said, this Dreamworld jaunt is relatively understated (albeit only by their own standards which have previously seen them joined by a retinue of dancers in inflatable suits), instead making inventive use of those street-lamps and a dazzling array of visuals, and placing the emphasis firmly on their titanium-clad hits, which keep on rolling.

With the duo moving through a range of outlandish costumes (including one which could be described as The Pope on Mufti day for Tennant; and a return to his ‘BOY’ cap for Lowe), they run the gamut of their catalogue: from Imperial Phase (a Tennant-coined phrase for a period of commercial infallibility) classics like the pulsating ‘Heart’,  to the tender ‘Rent’, to their cover of Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Losing My Mind’ (which they originally produced for Liza Minelli in 1989) to an acoustic guitar-led (despite once jokingly opining that the instrument should be banned) ‘You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You’re Drunk’ to 2013’s euphoric banger ‘Vocal’, which boasts a drop like an open manhole.

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Coming off the back of 2020’s stellar ‘Hotspot’ album (which completes a purple patch trilogy produced by Stuart Price), two tracks from that record are performed – ‘Dreamland’, their collaboration with Olly Alexander (band member Clare Uchima stands in for the Years & Years singer tonight – as she does for the late Dusty Springfield on ‘What Have I Done to Deserve This?’) and the insouciant Daft Punk-ish ‘Monkey Business’. The former smuggles in lyrics about the refugee crisis under its bright pop-hooks, and it’s not the only political song of theirs to feel especially resonant tonight: their 1988 cover of Sterling Void’s rave anthem ‘It’s Alright’, presenting a ticker-tape of headlines about war-torn countries in turmoil, feels timely in the face of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – while Tennant even alters the lyrics of ‘West End Girls’ to ‘From Mariupol to the Kyiv Station’, replacing the 1984 original’s ‘From Lake Geneva to the Finland Station’.

The bombastic ‘It’s a Sin’, which gained a new lease of life as the soundtrack to last year’s Russell T Davies’ drama of the same name, predictably goes down a storm; but it’s the closing ‘Being Boring’, dedicated to “those we’ve lost along the way”, which is their swansong: a gorgeous lament to the passing of time and a dignified tribute who died in the AIDS crisis, where the devastating kiss off line “All the people I was kissing/Some are here and some are missing” takes on an additional meaning after COVID. Surveying the crowd, Tennant praises:  “Amazing! I think this is my favourite Tuesday of the year!”, and few here could disagree with him.

Pet Shop Boys played:

‘Suburbia’
‘Can You Forgive Her?’
‘Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)’
‘Where the Streets Have No Name (I Can’t Take My Eyes Off You)’
‘Rent’
‘I Don’t Know What You Want but I Can’t Give It Any More’
‘So Hard’
‘Left to My Own Devices’
‘Single-Bilingual / ‘Se a vida é (That’s the Way Life Is)’
‘Domino Dancing’
‘Monkey Business’
‘New York City Boy’
‘You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You’re Drunk’
‘Jealousy’
‘Love Comes Quickly’
‘Losing My Mind’
‘You Were Always on My Mind’
‘Dreamland’
‘Heart’
‘What Have I Done to Deserve This?’
‘It’s Alright’
‘Vocal’
‘Go West’
‘It’s a Sin’
‘West End Girls’
‘Being Boring’

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