Pet Shop Boys, Hammersmith Apollo, London
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Combining the artiness of Gilbert and George with an appeal approaching that of Morecombe and Wise, Pet Shop Boys are a great British double-act. Their costumes may change but the dynamic remains the same: vocalist Neil Tennant’s urbane sophisticate supported by the stage surliness of Chris Lowe, glowering behind his synthesizer. They realised long ago that this image is a kind of trademark, and it’s the point of departure for all their visually vibrant performances.
Tonight, they first appear in silhouette, on a large video screen framed by Dan Flavin-ish strips of neon. Like some music-hall impressario, Tennant wears a top hat and tails; Lowe has on a luminous yellow cagoule and a white baseball cap. Together, they are a clubland Noël Coward and a day-glo barrowboy. As ever, their joint identity hints at the trade between the rough and the smooth of city life, brilliantly captured in a string of Thatcher-era hits, including “West End Girls”, “Opportunities” and “Rent”. A pair of male backing singers, and another of dancers, are similarly attired. The latter leap like balletic marionettes, adding to the show’s knowing artifice.
Officially, this is the Fundamental tour. However, new songs such as the Blair/Bush-baiting “I’m with Stupid” inevitably play second fiddle to the classics. It’s strange to think of the Pet Shop Boys as a heritage band, but the mostly middle-aged crowd is proof enough. Of course, hi-NRG basslines will always go down well under certain arches. Historically, though, the duo’s electropop style is forever 1988. There’s nothing wrong with that when they can deliver floor-filling versions of “You Were Always on My Mind” and the magisterial “It’s a Sin”.
The only duff notes are “Numb”, written by the high priestess of power balladry, Diane Warren, and “Dancing with the Queen”, which becomes a rather heavy-handed Lady Di/AIDS elegy. These falter in being at odds with the celebratory tone of the set, which features gold-lamé cowboy outfits and military bling by the end. Once “The Smiths you can dance to”, Pet Shop Boys are now as showbiz – and absolutely as fabulous – as Eurovision.