Pet Shop Boys: “Who’s laughing now?”

Andrew Robins has a revelation as the Pet Shop Boys hit the Utilita Arena.

As music-crazed youths at the start of the 80s, my friends and I would religiously read Smash Hits. This, in our defence, was several years before it became a glossy promotional piece for whichever Neighbours actor was being Stock, Aitken and Watermaned into the charts. In my time it was a credible read, a sort of on-ramp for the NME. One of the writers was Neil Tennant, and I remember the magazine gentiy chuckling at him leaving, to “try to become a pop star”.

In short, he succeeded, and too many years later, the Pet Shop Boys juggernaut rolls into Brum’s shrine to the £9 pint, the Utilita Arena, with the Dreamworld tour, where we are treated to over two hours of their backstory, every song a single.

They kick off with Suburbia, performed against an austere background with no band in sight, during which Tennant and partner Chris Lowe have what look like enormous tuning forks strapped to their heads. The metal contraptions don’t last long, though, and there’s a massive cheer as Tennant’s face is revealed and the curtains go up to reveal the band, prompting things to kick into top gear.

I’m not particularly a Pet Shop Boys fan, but what follows is a playlist of some of the most finely created pop music of the past forty-odd years. I genuinely defy anyone, wnatever genres of music they like, not to enjoy this show.

Tennant – who, remarkably, turns 70 next month – is clearly enjoying himself. He’s wearing a range of impressive coats, engaging warmly with the crowd like a sort of cool uncle, while Chris Lowe remains firmly in character, stoically expressionless and still taking his cues from Ron Mael of Sparks.

Anyone who ever vists here will know how hard it is to engage in a cavernous space like what I still call the NIA, but the duo manage it as we get the full range of their back catalogue: the heartfelt Love Comes Quickly and Rent, the crowd singing on Domino Dancing, the gay anthem Go West (a rare cover version), the perfect pop of West End Girls, the thumping house of It’s Alright. It’s hard not to be impressed. Being Boring, they were not.

Come the end of it all, the 15,000 fifty-somethings disgorging a bit more gingerly that they used to along the towpaths and bridges from the venue had certainly had their money’s worth.

Forty years on, who’s laughing now?