In September 2012, Pet Shop Boys released their eleventh regular studio album, ‘Elysium’. To my mind, it’s their most soporific and middling album to date and one marked by their most crushingly bland single, ‘Winner’. Metacritic ranked the aggregated review scores for the album as ‘generally favourable’.
‘Elysium’ would turn out to their last single in partnership with Parlophone, their home for the last three decades. Six months after its release, Pet Shop Boys announced that they had signed a new deal with a new kind of label, Kobalt Label Services. The announcement came with the promise of new music, in the form of a snippet of a brand new track worlds away from the introspective meanderings of ‘Elysium’.
That snippet would turn out to be ‘Axis’, the opening track to the new album ‘Electric’ and the first released on their own label x2 (“times two”). Where ‘Elysium’ shuffled uncomfortably, ‘Electric’ strode forcefully, bright, smart and euphoric. The change in label seemed to allow Pet Shop Boys to look at themselves anew and focus on their key values. ‘Electric’ gave the duo their best chart performance since 1993 and this time Metacritic ranked the collective reviews as ‘universal acclaim’. ‘Super’, released in 2016, continued the trend and matched the #3 chart position that ‘Electric’ reached.
The influence of both albums was felt throughout the opening night of the UK leg of the SUPER tour in at the First Direct Arena in Leeds last night, 18th February 2017. As ‘Inner Sanctum’ played, the two small circular screens on the minimal stage set slowly revolved to reveal Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe to an eager crowd. The opening track segued seamlessly into ‘Opportunities’ – a trick we’ve seen more and more in the band’s live repertoire since the addition of ‘third Pet Shop Boy’ Stuart Price – and by the end of the timeless and poignant ‘Pop Kids’, the duo are in full stride.
The set started to change, with the circular screens being wheeled off and the screen that served as the back-drop was lowered and taken off. Now, the larger stage played home to a full band with the addition of vocalist/percussionist Afrika Green, vocalist/violinist/keyboardist Christina Hizon, and vocalist/percussionist/keyboardist Simon Tellier. Having a live band is a nice change from the Pandemonium tour, which featured excellent dancers/vocalists, but there’s something about having two live drummers that makes (Sigue Sigue Sputnik notwithstanding) for an exciting, vital sound.
The larger screen behind the stage provided the canvas for dazzling videos and abstract graphics which complimented the excellent sound quality. Regular listeners will know that I have a real issue with repurposed sports venues being used for concerts but there are no such problems with Leeds, which is a purpose-built venue with excellent acoustics and a brilliant view from every seat.
(Sorry, shot this on my phone)
With such a long career and so many classic songs to choose from, it’s impossible to choose a set list that will please every fan, but this came mighty close and it’s refreshing to hear old classics represented in a new way, which Pet Shop Boys always make an effort to do. ‘Home and Dry’ became a Balaeric ambient epic, and “Left To My Own Devices” (which will be a track given away with the new Pet Shop Boys “Annually” book!) was transformed into a tight, acid-driven dance track.
The evening’s only duff moment came with the aforementioned “Winner”. Although it was a remix from the insipid album version, it really failed to lift it any higher than mediocrity. Swap that for ‘Being Boring’, and you’re looking at probably the perfect Pet Shop Boys playlist.
- Inner Sanctum
- Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)
- The Pop Kids
- In the Night
- Love Is a Bourgeois Construct
- New York City Boy
- Se A Vida É (That’s The Way Life Is)
- Love Comes Quickly
- Love Etc.
- The Dictator Decides
- Inside a Dream
- West End Girls
- Home and Dry
- The Enigma
- The Sodom and Gomorrah Show
- It’s a Sin
- Left to My Own Devices
- Go West
(Village People cover)
- Always on My Mind
(Brenda Lee cover)
- The Pop Kids
Set list courtesy of the great people over at setlist.fm