It’s not often that Pet Shop Boys play in Singapore. In fact, by my reckoning, this is only the fourth time they have visited. The first time was in 1994, when according to Melody Maker one of the dancers lost some of her clothing onstage, meaning they got severely told off for indecency. But twenty years later, they returned for the first date on the Asian leg of their Electric tour.
The venue this time around was the Compass Ballroom, tucked away in a Las Vegas-style convention centre on little Sentosa Island, connected by a causeway to the rest of Singapore. For such a well-connected city, this was not the easiest venue to get to, and neither was it the easiest to find.
Once I did manage to find it, the venue turned out to be a convention centre ballroom in entirely the normal sense – a huge venue with a weird starry roof. The speaker racks were all right up by the front of the stage, and from the introductory music the acoustics towards the back seemed to be strangely dead, with a weird echo on some of the higher sounds. Was this going to be an issue during the concert? Time would tell.
More than anything, I was fascinated to see whether Singaporeans are actually capable of enjoying themselves at concerts, but many of my doubts would be dashed, as most of the crowd were actually pretty lively right from the start. Just not particularly in my corner of the venue.
Eventually the lights went down and Axis began. Everyone remained resolutely seated, but there was some enthusiastic clapping. I couldn’t really see anything much – you could just about make out Neil and Chris behind the projected foreground, but even the cameras seemed to be unable to find them.
Is that the sound of One more chance? Yes it is! Brilliant! There were obviously a lot of fans around who remember the 1980s. This mixed into A face like that, which confused a lot of people. Chris Lowe was hidden behind a lovely metal synth rack, and both he and Neil Tennant seemed to be wearing what looked like coats made from cable ties.
Some equations on the projection, and the sound of something that’s clearly from the 1980s. Oh, it’s Opportunities! Finally the foreground projection falls away rather clumsily, and I realised I was actually going to be able to see something after all!
“Good evening, we’re the Pet Shop Boys.” Damn! I’ve come to the wrong concert… oh, it’s OK, Memory of the future begins. At some point during Opportunities everyone had stood up and were doing hands-in-pockets dancing. For Memory of the future they all sat down again.
Then came Fugitive and Integral. Hmm, Integral is a bit subversive, isn’t it? I wonder if anyone else who attended thought that? After that, Neil and Chris wandered offstage while the dancers did a bit of freestyle dancing with horns.
I wouldn’t normally do this kind of thing, and they reappear, now wearing Egyptian masks for some reason. They perform about half of a song, and then wander off again to get changed. Then Suburbia, and everyone stands up again. It’s getting a bit silly now with all the standing and sitting. I think I might just ignore everyone else from now on.
Next up is I’m not scared. Ooooh, lasers! The people sitting next to me are pretty bored though. Neither has actually applauded yet. Then a surprise – Flourescent – which hadn’t been played before on the tour up to this point. The lasers continue, with lots of pretty colours and flashy things.
The cover of The Last to Die vaguely wakes up the man on my right, who applauds politely, but the man on my left has pulled his phone out. Three times during this song he checks the time. Meanwhile, back on stage – Somewhere. Neil and Chris disappear half way through, leaving the instruments to play themselves. The instrumental sounds weird on its own – almost as if they forgot to finish the song before wandering off.
Leaving. Neil and Chris try their hardest by appearing with mirrorball hats, but everyone sits down nonetheless. The man on my right is looking at his phone again. Curious to see what’s so important, I risk a quick peek – he’s actually reading Jamie Oliver‘s biography on his phone. During a concert. A very expensive concert, too. Not a fan of the newer stuff, then. Actually, a lot of the crowd are getting bored, which is a shame. OK, “Good evening Singap…” hold on, where are we again?”
Then Thursday. Ladies and gentlemen, Example! Oh, he’s on the telly. A lot of shifting occurs onstage, and for Love etc Neil and Chris are dancing in their beds. Brilliant. Neil’s head is a little bit off though. Then I get excited (You get excited too), for which they have revived the riff from the Bobby O version. I wonder if anyone else spotted that.
Rent. The back projection has turned into a load of electrical circuitry. Very nice. Then Miracles. The Jamie Oliver fan on my left and the grumpy guy on my right are both very bored indeed now, but they wake up again for It’s a Sin. There are lots of flashy lights, and the venue goes wild. And everyone gets out their camera to film it for… what exactly do people film concerts for?
Domino dancing, and reluctantly everyone gets up again. OK, now the dancers are silver cookie monsters on pogo sticks. I want a pogo stick. Neil turns up with a fez. I want a fez. People are even singing along. At the end, they continue singing! Not Grumpy though – he can barely bring himself to applaud politely at the end of each song.
He wakes up again for Go West, as does everyone else. One last track, announces Neil, so what have they forgotten? Oh yes, Always on My Mind, and now the Jamie Oliver Fan is singing along, although he’s a little tone deaf, so I’m reminded of Joss Ackland in It Couldn’t Happen Here. Then which the concert is over. A load of fluttery bits get fired into the audience with a bang, about four bars from the end of the song. I wonder if they were meant to go off right at the end? Anyway, they go offstage, and the crowd make a very respectable amount of noise in order to try and get them back.
They reappear, to perform West End girls. Oh yes, we forgot about that one, didn’t we? The place goes wild. A few people sneak off during Vocal to jump the taxi queue, but by and large the venue remains pretty lively right through to the end.
So in conclusion, I’ve been to livelier Pet Shop Boys concerts in the past, but I’ve not seen anything quite this lively before in Singapore. The boys pulled off an exceptional show, and most of the audience seemed to enjoy it too. Well worth the trip!
The full track listing:
- One more chance
- A face like that
- Opportunities (Let’s make lots of money)
- Memory of the future
- The Rite of Spring
- I wouldn’t normally do this kind of thing
- I’m not scared
- The Last to Die
- Love etc
- I get excited (You get excited too)
- It’s a Sin
- Domino dancing
- Go West
- Always on my mind
- West End girls (encore)
- Vocal (encore)
There are heaps of videos of the event available on the internet including some official ones by Singaporean TV company MediaCorp, if you search hard enough…
Also, if you speak Japanese, here’s a review posted on Saturday night from someone with the slightly questionable name of Mao Mao, translated into vaguely comprehensible haiku form thanks to Google Translate here.
Edit: after writing this piece I found further coverage from MyPaper, the Straits Times, Bandwagon, Today Online, and SpinOrBinMusic. Be warned that most of these contain the words “retro” and “eighties”.