Gig Review: Pet Shop Boys at Hull Bonus Arena
“Tonight we are going to a dream world,” Pet Shop Boys frontman Neil Tennant said in a jam-packed Bonus Arena in Hull, as Chris Lowe chirped the sequencers beside him with deadpan calm. . “It’s a world of music and memories.” He’s not wrong; if the veteran synth-dance duo achieve anything through a sublime dive into their catalog afterwards, it’s to conjure up rosy memories of why the world fell in love with them in the first place.
Two years after an original pandemic postponement, the duo’s belated stay comes with a few perks. For one, it brings them to Humberside, with that spectacle added amid rescheduled races in their itinerary. On the other hand, it gave them more time to perfect this show, elevating their talent for TV musical mini-dramas into a scintillating, hyper-camp tour de force of cinematic maximalism.
Their latest show – named Dreamland, for the 2019 single duly aired midway through to complement the riding nature of their performance – is billed as their first greatest hits tour. It’s a tribute to the pair that a jam-packed wall-to-wall gig with over two dozen bangers can still leave a plethora of top forty smashes by the wayside.
But really, there are few glaring omissions; it is a well-polished crowd cavalcade. It’s business as usual for a Pet Shop Boys concert between esoteric performance art and club euphoria. Minimalist floor lamps accompany the soaring Suburbia opening; a lush left to my own devices adds tiered DJ decks; You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You’re Drunk provides shock value by returning to affect the acoustic ballad.
At 67, many frontmen may be stepping down, but the memo clearly didn’t reach Tennant. Dressed in a succession of costumes somewhere between Doctor Who-esque dictator du jour and good-natured ringmaster, he remains compulsively watchable, both melancholy resigned and coy. Keyboardist Lowe remains as impeccably relentless as ever – but even he can smile when their cover of Steven Sondheim’s Losing My Mind turns into Always On My Mind with hasty abandon.
This kicks off a third-act rush encompassing the undisputed Pet Shop Boys home runs: Heart, Go West, a delirious It’s a Sin. Their biggest, most brash hits are arguably unrivaled in modern pop arrangements – and when they return to the stage for an encore of West End Girls, their idiosyncratic sweep remains wonderfully intact. “This is amazing!” Tennant exclaims, before the downtempo Being Boring marks the end of the proceedings. Isn’t that fair?