Tuesday, 21 February 2017

one in a million: pet shop boys at manchester arena

last sunday saw my mother and i taking our seats at the manchester arena, awaiting the arrival of the pet shop boys. after a terrible week, both for my mental health and productivity levels, it was a welcome break from the stress of trying to find people to interview for my uni project (a magazine about the past, present and future of manchester's cultural history; no surprise there). 

as far as the set list goes, i'd had a brief look when we booked the tickets last year, just to check that they were performing two of my favourite ever tracks, vocal and west end girls, which they were. satisfied with this, i decided not to look at the setlist again, allowing for the element of surprise when the day of the show came around. arriving at the venue on sunday, i had a hazy recollection of the songs that were to be performed, and it involved a lot of newer tracks, including many that i wasn't familiar with. (for the record (pun totally intended), my favourite pet shop boys album is 1993's very, which i remember listening to as a child, and both the arresting synth-pop sound and its distinctive cover - bright orange with slightly raised dots - stayed with me ever since). i knew from watching their live videos on youtube that whatever songs they played, they would put on an incredible show, but it's that moment of finally hearing a song after weeks/months/years of waiting that makes a gig special to me, and i worried it would be lacking if i didn't already have an emotional connection with the songs. 

i needn't have worried though, as even the songs i didn't know - in the night, love etc., the gloriously camp sodom and gomorrah show and the brilliantly cinematic winner - ended up being some of my favourites, and i've been playing them non-stop since. much to my delight, they also played plenty of old favourites which the crowd - mostly made up of people 30 and over - no doubt appreciated. we had fairly good seats too - the whole arena had seating - and were just a block away from the front, though typically i ended up with a huge six foot man in front of me (luckily he sat down for the majority of the show and didn't obstruct my view). 

they opened with the largely instrumental inner sanctum before transitioning effortlessly into 1985's opportunities, and it was this mix of old and new that meant i was never bored. some shows have a tendency to drag, with the audience losing interest when lesser known (and usually non-single) tracks are played, but i found the two hour show flew by and i was left wanting more. my favourite tracks from 2016's super, burn and the pop kids got the crowd on their feet, as did the disco stylings of new york city boy. other highlights included inside a dream, home and dry (which had me fighting back tears with a glorious - and totally unexpected - stripped-down take on the track) and it's a sin, one of my mother's favourites. 

i'm still trying to decide on my favourite moment from the show, but so far i've narrowed it down to four. the first was the long-awaited rendition of west end girls; a song we'd played endlessly in the months leading up to the show, and as soon as i heard the opening chords, every hair on my arms stood on end. hearing vocal live after such a long wait was incredible too; it's one of those songs that was made to be played live, and i only wish i'd had a drink or two (or three) so i could have let loose a little more. also a (pleasant) surprise was go west, their iconic cover of the village people anthem, and i'm not joking when i say that the key change was one of the best moments of my life. 

my favourite moment however, was by far during their final song, always on my mind. with a long history in the gay community, it didn't come as a shock to see so many LGBT couples in the audience. the only other time i've ever seen so many was at my first trip to manchester pride in 2013 with my then-girlfriend, and that same sense of unity could be felt in the crowd that night. i saw this older lesbian couple sitting just behind me in the block of seats to my left, and when this song started, they got up and danced to it the whole way through, and once again i found myself fighting back tears because despite being a massive cynic who firmly believes that Love Is Dead, and having accepted my fate as a crazy dog lady, i can't help wishing that one day i'll meet someone who makes me as happy as those two women looked. 

the show ended with a reprise of the pop kids, before the lights came up and we shuffled our way back out into the blustering winds and showers typical of manchester's wonderful weather, and despite my hair being ruined in the rain and having to run for the bus, my spirits were high after such an energetic performance from dance music's finest duo. the pet shop boys have shown that when it comes to performing at sold out arenas and creating groundbreaking albums year after year, age really is just a number.  

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