Chris Lowe has never revealed much of himself to his audience. As usual, he’s on stage behind his keyboards with his signature baseball cap pulled over his forehead and huge bug-eyed sunglasses covering his face. Even better for Lowe – one imagines - the Pet Shop Boys take to the stage for their first London gig in two years behind a giant screen projecting giant graphics.
The screen remains in front of them throughout “Axis”, the opening track from new album Electric, and a mash up of “One More Chance” and “A Face Like That” before, finally, Lowe and Neil Tennant appear.
Of course, this kind of atypical spectacle is nothing new – they’ve been reinventing the pop concert as a modern art spectacle for decades - but Pet Shop Boys still manage to pack more ideas into these two hours than this venue usually sees in two months.
At one point, two dancers, plus Tennant and Lowe, are all on stage wearing minotaur heads on top of suits (as seen in the “Axis” video) while a glorious light show tears through the air. Later, the dancers – wearing bright orange helmets which look like a bearskin hats pulled over the eyes - rave inside two endearingly wobbly “circuit” boxes which are soon turned around and turned into “beds”. In these Tennant and Lowe sticking their heads through a hole – Blackpool pier-style – while two wriggling young bodies are projected below them onto the white sheets while Tennant sings and Lowe does even less than usual. You can barely take your eyes off them. Even the road crew are in uniform bright orange jackets.
The music holds its end of the bargain. The production from Stuart Price on the tracks from Electric, including – oddly - a cover of “The Last To Die” from Bruce Springsteen’s middling Magic album and “Thursday”, featuring a guest rap both here on on-record from Example, is thunderous. A Moroder-hugging rave-up. Other fine moments include their high-NRG take on “Somewhere” from West Side Story and the still-apt Thatcherite satire, “Opportunities”. All are delivered with a deadpan smirk from Tennant and not a hint of a flinch from Lowe.
And though even the unknown tracks on the not-yet-released Electric are greeted warmly, it’s the cornucopia of hits that bring as much energy to the crowd as there is from the backing dancers. A run including “Rent”, a biblically red-lit “It’s A Sin”, “Go West”, “Always on My Mind” and – of course – “West End Girls”, brings a discopop rapture, with everyone in the 2/3–full arena on their feet and dancing. Only one man, in a baseball cap, barely moves.