Live Reviews - Reviews

The Pet Shop Boys at SSE Arena, Belfast

I’m no stranger to finding myself in situations that make me question my life choices but sitting in the SSE Arena watching Dave Pearce play Dance Anthems and telling me to lift my arms in the air is a new one. I’ll admit I’d been surprised and sceptical on finding this was the support for the Pet Shop Boys’ Dreamland: The Greatest Hits Tour. I’m immediately proven wrong in my incredulity, however, by the middle-aged Kevin and Perry beside me, who are already joyously immersed in Faithless’s ‘Insomnia’ as I arrive, fisherman’s hats perched on their heads. Pet Shop Boys have a hugely varied fan base.

I have a friend who frequently mocks my love of Greatest Hits compilation albums so it came as no surprise to anyone that I’d be excited about this concert and, post-Pearce, my anticipation for the main act builds as the overhead lights fade to darkness and huge white spotlights emanate from the stage scanning the audience as if searching for a fugitive amongst us. When Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe appear to thunderous applause, both dressed in black and white and wearing their familiar chrome masks, it’s clear that minimalist monochrome is the mood; the only stage décor at this point is a white lamp post on either side of the stage.

From the second the opening Suburbia begins in the fully-seated arena, there are few bums on seats. So many hits do the Pet Shop Boys have, that they give us songs like ‘Rent’ and ‘Left to My Own Devices’ early in the proceedings, and unlike with many other artists, there isn’t an obvious ‘time for everyone to go to the bar’ moment from start to finish. Now on their fifteenth album, with a career spanning over forty years, the most successful British musical duo of all time have such a body of work that it’s fair to say their Greatest Hits tour is all killer, no filler.

Neil Tennant swinging around the lamppost at times, like Gene Kelly in Singin’ In The Rain, reminds me of his revelation in the BBC’s recent Imagine documentary (a must-see if you haven’t already) that he established his vocal style listening to his parents’ record of the My Fair Lady soundtrack, with Rex Harrison ‘speak-singing’ as Henry Higgins. This makes total sense of course, and that iconic voice, remarkably since he enters his seventies next month, sounds the same as it did when I first listened to them over thirty years ago.

While the stage changes at various times throughout the evening, from the earlier dark minimalism through an impressive array of lightshows and graphics, the overwhelming red and orange visuals are particularly effective when adding an appropriately hellish backdrop to the fabulous ‘It’s A Sin’.

It’s an onslaught of stand-out moments from beginning to end, with ‘Domino Dancing’ proving to be a Belfast crowd favourite, but the encore of ‘West End Girls’ and ‘Being Boring’, when no one needs to instruct us to stand up and put our arms in the air, leaves me with the feeling that I’ve just experienced something special. ‘Being Boring’ is of course inspired by Tennant’s loss of a friend to AIDS in the 1980s and so is a poignant reflection on growing up and older when others don’t get to come along for the ride. But if you’re not dancing and crying simultaneously are you even listening to Pet Shop Boys?

Their distinctive synth-pop sound doesn’t seem to ever date, and with their music being used in recent films such as All of Us Strangers and the Gen Z favourite Saltburn, they’ve found a whole new fanbase. Chris Lowe, as understatedly cool as ever, is still wearing his BOY cap. Retirement doesn’t seem to be on the horizon. Pet Shop Boys continue to be as relevant and modern as ever, and to misquote Zelda Fitzgerald, the inspiration for the final song’s title, they seem to refuse to be bored because they were never being boring. Shauna McLaughlin