Well, that was quite the spectacle.
Here in Berlin, on a breezy, damp, and miserable evening, Pet Shop Boys lit up the superbly-appointed Tempodrom, providing a veritable cornucopia of visual and aural delight. This was a sensational experience even for jaded old campaigners like me.
Visually, it is the most magnificent show since Performance. Aurally, it's probably their best ever. I've enjoyed all of their tours - there is always so much to observe and absorb - but this one is awe-inspiring at times. The synchronised combination of projections and lasers is often spellbinding, with all manner of emotion conveyed. The audience is immersed, almost submerged, in the pyrotechnics, so much so that you become part of the performance. Yet, it's the sheer beauty and magnificence of some of the less explosive visuals that really stays with you. The sequence covering a lovely rendition of Home and Dry was almost celestial in its beauty.
As the show opened to the throbbing, exciting, all-enveloping beats of Inner Sanctum, an island of five orange-suited Can You Forgive Her? coneheads was swallowed up by the packed floor, their conical hats flashing in comic symmetry. It's endearing to see such devoted and humorous fandom, a reminder that, for many of us, nights like this are more than just a nostalgic diversion.
Neil seemed to have a technical issue at the start of the show - one he explained during some witty patter with the audience ("I seem to have Chris's pack and he seems to have mine") - and then ran through the obligatory West End Girls. His vocals were, unquestionably, the best I've ever encountered. The crowd, which gets older every tour, seemed awestruck, even overwhelmed, by the sheer force of the spectacle.
The music was adventurous and thrilling, with most songs reworked to wondrous effect. A motif of this show is the weaving of evocative, often melancholic, sonic hooks (that were buried deep in the originals) into the heart of each new rendition. Love Comes Quickly, with its natural melancholia, exemplified this to stirring effect.
If anything, the Berghain-heavy bass on the well-received Pop Kids drowned out the bittersweet pathos that makes the record so life-affirming, but a sumptuous In the Night quickly took the show to new heights. Amazing, as those that say "Amazing" might say.
Indeed, the early part of the show is almost too much, with a rip-roaring Burn followed by a searing Love is a Bourgeois Construct. Overwhelming. New York City Boy - which always works live - and Se a Vida E continued the 90s vibe, and reinforced a sense that tonight was no imperial phase rehash. For a diehard fan, the setlist was fresh and vital. After the double-whammy of Love Comes Quickly and Love etc, the Dictator Decides was extraordinarily apposite and menacing. The lighting and staging here was incredible.
Things quickly got weird with Inside a Dream, a random choice and, arguably, the first real misstep of the evening. Then we fell off a cliff with Winner, though it has to be conceded that this version was far more palatable than the Freddy Krueger-inspired original. The Enigma allowed us to pause and reflect on the preceding horror before Vocal restored all faith: truly a classic of the canon.
I think, by now, I was cognitively overloaded. Sodom - shorn of its twee middle section where Wallflower Neil goes on interminably about having to "learn to love to live" or some such shite - was fantastic, sped up as it was, a trick they pulled earlier for In the Night. It's a Sin, Left to My Own Devices (with a new drug-addled accompaniment) and Go West took us over the top and down the other side.
The encore of Domino Dancing - received rapturously like a long-lost love - and a clever Always On My Mind rounded off a feast for the senses.
As the fragrant Further Away and I left the arena and emerged into the night, we heard a lone busker strumming the tune to It's a Sin. It was then I realised that I'd barely taken any notice of Chris, who seemed to almost fade into the background given what was going on around, over, above, below, and through him. Hiding in plain sight was never easier. He must be delighted.
A gaudy, technicolour triumph.
The pale kid that hides in the attic behind his PC...