I spent Wednesday evening watching the Pet Shop Boys playing in the Empress Ballroom in Blackpool. The Empress Ballroom, known to fans of The Stone Roses as being the gig that sealed their ascent in the summer of 1989, is a beautiful late 19th century venue holding 3000 people, pretty intimate for an act who often play arenas. The show had everything you'd want and expect from a Pet Shop Boys performance- lights, projections, images, lasers, daft headgear, costume changes and more great tunes than you can shake a stick at. It opened with Neil and Chris appearing by rotating into view on two giant white circles. They stepped down, daft headgear intact, and got right on it in front of a crowd who were very much up for it. As a pair they've made songs that are informed by forty years of club culture and fifty years of pop culture and for a while were very near the centre of UK music. The projections for second song Opportunities have smiley faces swapping with dollar signs, a nice visual ironic nod to Thatcher's enterprise culture. From there on in it's recent songs like The Pop Kids and Love Is A Bourgeois Construct spliced with highlights from their back catalogue. A few songs in the giant white discs are dismantled, the screen falls down and a trio of musicians join Neil and Chris, two percussionist and a keyboardist/violinist, the extra drums beefing up the rack of synths and laptops local lad Chris Lowe is playing. Somewhere around halfway in, the temperature in the room rising and some of the crowd now shirtless, they drop in a beautifully chilled Love Comes Quickly, a pop song as good as any written in the 1980s.
Neil Tennant is a superb lyricist, a writer who frequently finds the sweet spot between the uniquely personal and brilliantly universal, and his distinctive voice has survived the years. In the second half of the set they show their strengths to full effect with a run of West End Girls, Home And Dry and It's A Sin, lasers beaming, hats and jackets changed, building up to the finale, now with giant coloured balls suspended above the stage- a reworked, upgraded version of Left To My Own Devices and then a singalong Go West, a song of community and brotherhood. The encore has a perfectly pitched and played Domino Dancing, the moment house music explicitly influenced their sound, followed by Always On My Mind. It's the hits. Pile 'em high, give 'em what they want. I could gripe that there's no Being Boring, no So Hard, no Rent but it'd be churlish. It's quite a show they put on, songs that last with choruses that stick (for decades), performed with knowing theatrics, with a nod and a wink but with feeling too. A class act.