Some housekeeping before we begin: Many of the colored words link to youtube video from the tour. If you were also at DAR please write in (countpopula!)...
Last weekend I came jetting back, literally, to DC for what I knew was the Ground Zero of Pop Music at that moment in time. The Pet Shop Boys tour!
I was a bit nervous about this concert. Most real pop shows I've seen are more like Broadway. How would PSB translate live? After a slightly shaky opening with Psychological (which would turn out to be the weakest monent of the show) they quickly won the crowd with a quintessential PSB song, Left To My Own Devices. Needless to say, it lifted everyone to their feet, especially us Back Row Bitches. I'd avoided spoilers, so it was all a surprise to me, but there were some unexpected tracks Sunday night, including Suburbia (still love the bridge on that song), Shopping (followed Minimal for s-p-e-l-l-i-n-g theme!) and a wistful Dreaming of the Queen.
The staging: a cube made up of three pieces dominated the set. Throughout the show, men dressed in white (who looked like sperm) would move pieces of the cube around to create a different effect for each song. At one point Neil even sat inside the cube behind the scrim, illuminated by light. It was really clever and as the evening wore on you wondered what configurations were left.
Neil Tennant, looking natty on tails and the occasional hat, sounded and looked great. Chris Lowe never did a thing except stand in front of the keyboard, which is nothing but expected. No interaction at all. The Boys had two dancers and three backing vocalists including the fab Sylvia Mason James, who has appeared with PSB many times before. She’s a full-on diva and I wish she’d been able to do Dusty, but alas What Have I Done... was not included. She did get to carry her purse during Shopping, a detail I liked.
If you read my review earlier this year, you’ll now how much I love Integral. They did an electric performance of it, complete with blasts of white light during the Sterile! Immaculate! Rational! bits. And yes, the music dropped out at the end of the song for Neil’s upper-crusteloquent “puhhfect.”
After an intermission came the best performances: the arrangements seemed looser and more likely to deviate from the recorded versions. Set 2 opened with a beautiful Numb, using video projections and then came the Latin bit with Se A Vida É (That’s The Way Life Is) and Domino Dancing, followed by a kooky covers section with Where The Streets Have No Name (I Can't Take My Eyes Off You) (watch the dancing!) and Always On My Mind... big applause for that one.
I could not tell you how Heart was presented because we were distracted by a bearish Andrew Sullivan sitting two rows in front of us, wrapping his arm around his very tall, swarthy boyfriend. [For those who don’t know him, he’s a famous expat Brit who edited the New Republic magazine, uses a CPAP and is now a blogger (and occasional guest on The Colbert Report].
Of all the songs performed, two exceeded their recorded versions: Flamboyant, a bit flat on disc, was elevated by the backing singers adding great flourishes to the chorus. It seemed so much more soulful. I wanted to have a big ol’ cry during the fucking gorgeous Home And Dry, one of my favorite PSB songs, presented acoustically with Neil sitting on stage strumming guitar (who knew?!) surrounded by the backing vocalists. Beautiful. Anne and I joked that Andrew Sullivan wasn’t petting his boyfriend, but sure enough he was by the end of the song. Here's a snippet:
PSB have so many great songs that many seemed like the finale tracks. Their debut single West End Girls was monolithic live and the 90’s dancing was amusing. The Sodom And Gomorrah Show was presented with video images of a guy (white dancer boy) in uniform who slowly started to cut loose. The dancers onstage also started with uniforms and marching, but it quickly devolved as their “gayisms” broke through and they were flouncing around like runway queens. Cheeky.
I should note that I LOVED the soul disco version of So Hard the backing singers did. This was actually the Morales Mix (watch it) which is much better than the original. The actual encore was a brilliant It’s A Sin, a song that makes more sense to me as I age (ahem!). The finale: can you guess? Go West. I like their version, but it’s not what I would have picked for a finale, if only because it’s a cover. It does make for an upbeat ending to the show. The actual final moments onstage were the backing vocalists doing a sort of We’re The Pet Shop Boys epilogue, with bits an pieces of many of the songs used in the show.
I only wanted something else to do but hang around on Sunday night. Neil and Chris kicked ass all over DC. My friend Anne and I danced and sang and danced and sang the whole time. It was a great...release! Who knew when we started 2006 that Pet Shop Boys would have such an amazing impact this year. God save PSB!