The Pet Shop Boys have somehow avoided forceful ejection from pop heaven for 12 years now. Until 21 June the pop ironists are nestled in the Savoy Theatre, London, playing a series of concerts entitled "Somewhere". They are the first band to play a residency at a West End theatre, but it's hardly surprising because they have always been more at home with Coward and Wilde than Hendrix and Clapton and their songs have always sounded like they belong in an unwritten musical.
Ironically (what else could it be?) the theatrical setting sees them at their least theatrical. The atmosphere is far more intimate than previous shows; the absence of huge choreographed antics and massive costume changes probably makes this the nearest thing the Pet Shop Boys will get to an unplugged concert.
Initially they play lots of B-sides, as if a serious setting requires serious work from the audience. Then, just as everyone's gearing themselves up for a dance as they play "Go West", they tip straight into the interval. The interval? We wanted to dance. This theatre thing must have gone to the Boys head.
After the interval normal service is resumed. They play "It's a Sin" mixed up in a disco cocktail with "I Will Survive". Neil Tennant tells us it's all right to dance. So we jive in our seats. And we notice Chris Lowe has slipped a bit of drum 'n' bass into the mid section. Albeit quietly, Sylvia Mason James belts out the "I will survive" and Neil's monotone duets with her powerful wail. A mistake he probably won't make again.
Their forthcoming single, "Somewhere", a cover of the West Side Story song, is all disco beats, orchestral strings and epic arrangements which manage to sound even bigger than the epic disco of "Go West".
Despite all this faceless anti-pop star treatment and bright arrangements, Neil is equally capable of singing from his heart: for every meaningless "Che Guevara and Debussy to a disco beat" there's the tragedy and Wildean wit of "Whatever fatal points they scored, I have never been ignored".
This tenderness reaches its peak during the encore, when Neil appears with an unwieldy acoustic guitar. He gently strums his way through a tender version of "Rent". It works so perfectly, you wonder why they haven't done it before.
It's the contradictions: disposable beats and intimate clever lyrics that make the Pet Shop Boys appealing. Their self-conscious anti-rock stance is an antidote to whoever happens to be mistreating an electric guitar elsewhere in the charts. And thankfully, Chris standing behind the same Roland synthesizer pretending to produce all these sounds live is still the funniest running gag in showbiz.
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