I’m in a community center library, on my volunteer shift, as I type this. It’s a pretty quiet night, so I’m listening to music on my phone. I’ve had the Pet Shop Boys’ entire catalog on shuffle today. As I hear the opening beats to one of my favorite songs of theirs, “It Always Comes As A Surprise”, both my mind and heart are transported back to a couple of weeks ago. I got to see two of my musical heroes, and shared a small-but-unforgettable moment with them at their meet & greet event.
I’ve always loved the Pet Shop Boys, as far back as I can remember. I chalk it up to being exposed to new wave early in my youth, thanks to my maternal aunts & uncles. I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself a “Pethead”, but their music does find itself in my musical rotation almost daily.
It’s also a big link between one of my very best friends and I. While still living back home, she makes the pilgrimage up to the Bay Area for what feels like a tradition now. She comes to visit for a couple of days, we go see PSB at the Fox Theater in Oakland, and wax ecstatic about what songs they played that night. We usually pay the extra money to attend their meet & greet as well. (Note: this is how I have a signed vinyl copy of “Electric” on my wall.)
This would be our third time seeing them, as they tour in support of their new record “Super”. This time, though, things are a little different. Since the last time I saw them, I’ve sorta gone through some changes. 😉
As we pull into the pay lot and walk over to the Fox Theater, I’m understandably nervous. How would I react to meeting them again? Do I even say that I’ve met them before? My paranoia began to take over. I decide that there’s only thing that can fix this: tortilla soup (I am Latina, after all). My BFF and I head to a nearby taco shop and indulge in some very good tortilla soup.
Once we finish, we make our way to the meet & greet line across the street. We wait for about an hour or so in the rain before a member of the band’s staff comes by to give us our badges. Just then, I have a momentary panic attack. Why? Our tickets are still on my kitchen pin board…in San Jose. We’re told not to worry. “You can get reprints of our tickets at the box office”, she says in a British accent. A few minutes later, we’re brought indoors and corralled into another line.
At least we’re out of the rain, now.
After about a half hour wait, we’re at the front of the line. About half of the people in line ahead of us have already gone, and I’m wondering if the band is just anxious to meet everyone & get things over with. I tense up, wondering if they’ll be stoic, rude or otherwise disagreeable. Suddenly, the usher opens the door and lets us know that we’re up next.
I let my friend go in first, and she greets both Neil Tennant & Chris Lowe. They introduce themselves, sign our VIP lanyards and begin our conversation by asking if we’re locals. We both say we’re originally from San Diego. Neil says “oh, we really like San Diego..especially the Naval base.” Chris also jokes “Especially during Fleet Week!” We all get a laugh out of their ice breaker. They’re both warm and gracious, and could not be nicer. Neil asks me what I do:
Me: “I’m a software engineer.”
Neil: “Oh, like everyone else around here!”
Me: “It’s a tough job, but it pays for my makeup. So it’s worth it.”
This gets a big laugh from them both. Chris asks if this is our first time seeing them. My friend says it’s our third time.
Me: “Yeah, it’s our third time, but this one is different and pretty special for me.”
Chris: “Really? How so?”
Me: “Well, the truth is that I’ve met you two twice before. This is, however, the first time I’ve met the two of you since I transitioned genders.”
Neil: “Well, congratulations! You look amazing.”
Me: “Oh my goodness, thank you so much!”
At this point, we wrap up our conversation, and they tell us to enjoy the show. We head off to meet with friends for drinks (hooray for happy hour!), then to the show later. The band was in fine form as they entertained a sold-out crowd, stripping things down a bit to their bare essentials (except for a few well-placed lasers). I was pretty surprised by their set list, as it was an unexpected mix of songs I had never heard them do live before, and PSB staples like “Always On My Mind”, “West End Girls” and “It’s A Sin”. Their rendition of “Home and Dry” left me speechless.
Driving home in the rain, I couldn’t shake the sense of completeness I felt. To be able to see one of the few bands that’s been a constant throughout my life, and experience their music and the band themselves as my authentic self, was a memory I never thought I’d have, and one I’ll always hold dear. The setlist was impeccable. The performance was flawless. More importantly, for a band that has wrestled with its own sexuality in its own public way, I felt a connection to the band that felt genuine. If, by chance, the band ever reads this post, I hope they see that night meant more to me than they probably realize.
I have three lanyards signed by Neil & Chris, but this one will forever mean the most to me.