wed 24/04/2024

Pet Shop Boys, Royal Opera House | reviews, news & interviews

Pet Shop Boys, Royal Opera House

Pet Shop Boys, Royal Opera House

30 years on, the electro-pop duo still joyously push the show to new places

Tennant and Lowe facing down high culture

Anyone remember the Boobahs? They were the less successful cousins of the Teletubbies, from the same production house. They were puffy, fat, primary-coloured humanoids who bounced endlessly around in bizarre choreographed dance routines. They were psychedelic infantilism incarnate, and very funny.

Towards the end of Pet Shop Boys’ set the stage fills with what appears to be a Leigh Bowery-esque reimagining of the Boobahs. As the five spectacular tiers of the Royal Opera House, filled to capacity with dancing fans, revel in the chart-topping Catholic guilt anthem “It’s A Sin”, these strange wonderful beings troop on, a mass of synchronised dancing blobbies. It looks fantastic, surreal and, yes, very funny. This evening, the first of four nights at the venue, with notable assistance from Olivier Award-winning creative director Es Devlin, stage director Lynn Page and costume kingpin Jeffrey Bryant, Pet Shop Boys really push the boat out, with visually stunning results

It’s always fabulous to hear 'Go West', tonight given polite terrace anthem backing vocals by the audience

One of their clear goals, on a tropically warm evening, is to turn this venerable venue into a nightclub, something frontman Neil Tennant makes clear when he mischievously announces, “During the Second World War this wasn’t an opera house, it was a dancehall – we’re bringing back that spirit here tonight.” And they do, with a multiplicity of retina-frazzling lazers, and plenty from their last two albums, Electric and this year’s Super, both boasting the club-friendly muscle of producer Stuart Price. Most especially the song “Vocal” blooms into an acid-frazzled, joyously chewy techno rave-up, while the wonderfully pretentious “Love Is a Bourgeois Construct” – surely the only pop song to include the word “schadenfreude” - becomes a marching anthem of stomping euphoria, and the electro-disco of “Burn” is accompanied by a giant, circular, orange back-light redolent of Olafur Eliasson’s spectacular sun installation in the Tate Turbine Hall a few years back.

From the moment they appear at the start, uncurling from what appear to be giant ball chairs covered in projected eyeball/target imagery, the duo have the audience entranced. Both initially wear headgear, Chris Lowe’s visage entirely covered in a decorous silver globe and the glitzily suited Tennant showcasing some sort of disco shower cap. After a couple of songs, newie “Pop Kids” (everyone here already knows the words) and Eighties classic “West End Girls”, roadies clad in Orbital light-glasses wheel on three podiums, each bearing a band member standing stock still, their heads encased in vaguely Daft Punk-like helmets. All three add percussion, synth and vocal oomph throughout the rest of the one-hour-and-fifty-minutes concert.

Naturally, Pet Shop Boys pep things up with a back catalogue that includes 39 Top 20 hits, from a silver-clad dancing b-boy throwing shapes to 1999’s “New York City Boy” to a gorgeous take on the longing, lovely “Left to My Own Devices” ("Che Guevara and Debussy to a disco beat"!). And it’s always fabulous to hear “Go West”, tonight given polite terrace anthem backing vocals by the audience and performed against a bubbling backdrop of giant helium balloons of multiple sizes.

Pet Shop Boys also attained four No.1s, back in the Eighties, and it’s one of these they end on, their synth-pop cover of Elvis Presley’s “Always on My Mind”, a final crowd-pleasing sing-along. They wave us off and, as the Royal Opera House curtain falls, we can see the massed ranks of Boobahs joyously jiggling, disappearing from view, feet last, ending an evening where Pet Shop Boys, as ever blending high culture with juicy populism, surpassed themselves.

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