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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

 

Pet Shop Boys In Concert: The Pandemonium Tour

Pet Shop Boys: Pandemonium 2009 Tour
Hammerstein Ballroom, New York City
September 1, 2009

There's no greater evidence of one's inexorable slide into middle age than attending concerts by the pop idols of your youth. As a child of the late 80's, my iPod is filled with the pioneers of that decade: Eurythmics, Erasure, Madonna, Depeche Mode, Yaz, ABC, the B-52s, Culture Club, the Human League, Cyndi Lauper and more. I list those acts specifically because, in recent years, I've seen them all in concert, which have varied between stunning musicianship (Eurythmics, Lauper), creaky nostalgia (Yaz, Human League) and desperate attempts at cultural currency (Madonna).

And then there are the Pet Shop Boys, whose appearance last night (and tonight) at the Hammerstein Ballroom supported their excellent recent album, Yes. Though they are not my favorite band of all time, I will admit to having more songs by the Boys on my iPod than by any other act (272 in total, including 19 albums, remixes, b-sides, bootlegs, etc.). As a band, the Boys have always mixed nihilist humor and wry romanticism into electronic dance symphonies that wereboth intelligent and accessible...a rare feat.

But the question last night, of course, was this: can a moody, smart, reserved, and aging dance act rock out? Singer Neil Tennant (55) and keyboardist Chris Lowe (49) have never been traditional concert-stadium gods, preferring their live shows to exude a cool, postmodern atmosphere of video projection and minimal stage gear. (Lowe plays all songs from one single computer bank; Tennant walks with a microphone and sings.) The "Pandemonium Tour," which almost seemed an ironic title given the minimal set, saw colorful costumes against a wall of white boxes of varying sizes. The boxes, occasionally reconfigured by stage hands dressed in white jackets, served both as a projection screen and as not-so-subtle metaphors for construction, buildings, architecture, and urban landscape, which became the central themes of the show.

Tennant, Lowe and four superb backup dancer-singers began the show with colored boxes on their heads in a rousing rendition of "Heart," the underrated single from 1988. Throughout the evening, many of the band's biggest stateside hits were skipped in favor of little-known tracks like "Two Divided By Zero, "Closer To Heaven," "King's Cross," and, most marvelously, a little-known ballad called "Do I Have To?," which appeared only as a b-side. (Among the big hits that weren't played: "Opportunities," "So Hard," "What Have I Done To Deserve This," and the entirety of their previous two studio albums, Release and Fundamental.)

There were, however, plenty of classic tunes to go around, each of which were re-arranged by Lowe with thudding baselines and modern instrumentation reminiscent of Yes' stylistic flourishes. An urgent new version of "Left To My Own Devices" stripped out much of Trevor Horn's orchestral flourishes from the original; the loping rhythms of "Se A Vida E" positively bounced with effervescence. Only the encore performances of "Being Boring" and "West End Girls" hewed closely to the sound and texture of the original tracks.

The high points were many. An eardum-shattering take on "It's A Sin" brought the largest applause of the night, and Tennant's evident joy in performing the song was infectious. Two dance pieces for the backup dancers were also astonishing -- a beautiful male solo for "The Way It Used To Be" led into a heartbreaking pas de deux for "Jealousy," where Tennant ceded the stage to a passionate interpretation of a couple's breakup. The video projections, inspired by the colored-block design of their latest album cover, were most effective in "Go West" and "Love Etc."

Many of the new songs fit snugly into the repertoire, blending with older tracks seamlessly. (This is harder than it looks...just ask the stonefaced audiences at Depeche Mode last month, patiently tolerating new tracks while waiting around for "Personal Jesus.") I'm of the opinion that PSB's current single "Did You See Me Coming" is their finest in years, and it played exquisitely to the energy of the crowd. As one might expect, there was also a great deal of humor in the show. The dancers dressed up as NYC landmarks for one song, and Tennant himself donned a crown and cape for a cover of Coldplay's "Viva La Vida." Even the stoic Lowe, who rarely even moves, got into the act...dancing (for eight bars) in one break, and wearing a feather-plumed hat for "Being Boring," which he never was.

Unlike many of their contemporaries, onstage the Pet Shop Boys exude a relaxed, pleasing confidence...aware of their place in the canon and in music history, but unwilling to cede their artistry to sheer nostalgia. It's exciting, thrilling even, to see musicians pushing the boundaries of their work while enjoying it at the same time. As Tennant sang in one of the band's best performances of the evening, "I never dreamt that I would get to be/The creature that I always meant to be." They have reached the heights, and thankfully, they've allowed us to tag along for the ride.


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3 Comments:

Blogger Matt said...

I love the Pet Shop Boys. I think they are so talented lyrically and musically. It seems people would typically approach them as a band to like in an ironic, "tongue in cheek" way as a 80's throwback band who did "What Have I Done to Deserve This". I actually find them one of the most consistently engaging bands when they pop up on my ipod (also very prominent there). My favorite is their breakthrough past the 80's with the brilliant "Behavior". Simply transcendent.

9/2/09, 2:22 PM  
Blogger Maxine said...

PRO MOTION recently had the opportunity to speak with Pet Shop Boys! Check it out at http://blog.promotion-us.com

You can also check out our website at http://www.promolift.com

9/4/09, 2:18 PM  
Blogger Brasilmagic said...

I have always loved the Pet Shop Boys, since the mid-eigties. Raised my 2 kids (now adults) listening to their songs. Love all their songs, and have made many friends love them too. My favorite of all the favorites is It's Alright, don't ask me why. Yes, they are the most consistent band of all times. I am so glad they have not had a fall out or retired. Supreme talent. You guys make us very happy with your songs. I thank you wholeheartedly.

10/14/09, 2:57 PM  

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