The V festival - for anyone just joining us, it was Saturday 31 March in Sydney's Centennial Park - had the Pet Shop Boys (8:30 to 9:45pm) and the Pixies (9 to 10:15pm) each headlining on adjacent stages. We had been hoping that the stage the Pixies were on might be running late relative to the other one. Unfortunately it turned out the other way, so that the Pixies started soon after PSB, and throughout at least the first half of their set, the crowd thinned a bit as people split the difference and headed off to the Pixies. Of course in-between (and sometimes during) PSB songs you could actually hear the Pixies - the stages were too close together. We were pretty sure we wanted to stay with PSB but had made a meeting place for the end of the night, so that we didn't have to be tied to each other and could decide to split up if necessary. Just a few songs in, we were both set on staying to the end.
The thrill of this show was only partly about the live performance of the songs. Neil's singing was certainly real, he actually started a bit rough but seemed to warm into it, plus there were three backing singers, two men and a woman, and of course Chris on keyboards. When they did Paninaro, everyone else left the stage and Chris actually sang. Obviously a large proportion of the sounds you hear are pre-recorded. But hey, it's not a rock show.
Neil was charming and slightly rogueish, an old-school entertainer. Early on he announced the names of the songs, sometimes before performing them. Or: 'We'd like to play you a love song now.' (Rent).
It was a complete musical show, with break dancing, video projections, costume changes and props. I don't think there was any attempt for these to be the highest-tech or most complicated. Even though there was a lot going on, there was also a sort of bright, stark look about the stage, with simple repeated themes in the costume and props. There were many costume changes for the backing singers and dancers, and even three or four for Neil, but they were all variations on a just couple of themes. There were lots of matching tracksuits, matching suits, then a bit where one dancer has tracksuit top and suit pants, the other the reverse.
The coolest theme was the way they played with their own images, with Chris's signature look of yellow hoodie and baseball cap, and Neil's of top hat and tails, repeated amongst the other performers (eg yellow sequinned hoodies for the dancers). At the very start of the show, a guy in a hoodie and one in a top hat come out. Crowd goes mad for Neil and Chris. Then another pair appear dressed the same! Ooh, what's going on? Finally the real Neil and Chris appear. I'm sure it's been done before, but it was fun.
The Sodom and Gomorrah show, a song from their most recent album, was almost a separate performance in itself. They actually brought out a drummer with full kit just for that one song. Unfortunately the evidence is hidden behind Mr Bighead in the above photo. All the performers except Chris appeared to have a separate costume just for this song.
After the final song of the encore, Neil thanked Sydney for a warm reception. And make no mistake, despite what I said about people leaving for the Pixies, there was a large, enthusiastic audience who were hanging on every note. He introduced each of the people on the stage, finishing with '...of course Chris Lowe on keyboards. I am Neil Tennant, and we are still the Pet Shop Boys.' At that they left the stage, leaving only the three backing singers who continued with a medley of So Hard, I'm with stupid and (I think) Robbie Williams' We're the Pet Shop Boys. The female singer in particular was A-Mazing - one of those huge soul voices - Neil is brave to share a stage with her! I wanted to hear her more.
After it was over we wandered over to the back of the Pixies audience and caught the last three or so songs. It was a serious mood shift but still pretty good, actually a nice wind-down for the night. I know I could have really gotten into their show too. But I started out with much more curiosity about PSB live than the Pixies. And also much more knowledge of and love for their music. Although it was momentous having the Pixies in the country for the first time, we have seen their live sets on ABC2 a couple of times and knew what to expect. The Pet Shop Boys put on more of a show than I had dared to expect. We loved it.