October 19, 2006

Review: PSB / WDC / 10.15.06

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!

Bonus Links:


ADD said...

I've been to at least 2 dozen concerts this year--and I don't mean little grotty coffee house things; I'm talking full-on Ticketmaster functions--and this topped them all. Mostly it was the company of XO; I was proud to concert-attend with such illustrious company! :)

countpopula said...

Well, I couldn't agree with you more. Fabulous from start to finish. This is my third Pet Shop show in seven years, and the best. Not only did Neil & Chris look the best they have in a while, but Neil sounded about the best I've ever heard him. And while the lovely DAR can sometimes remind one of a high school auditorium, they really rose to the occasion with innovative staging and wardrobe. If only those dancers had been axed. They were really distracting when you wanted to focus on the guys & the stage. I think the backup singers would have been enough, as I loathe when people start breaking into What's Happenin'/Rerun pop-n-lock mode, and badly at that. Plus, they were never really in sync with each other! But on to other things...

So many great musical moments...where to begin. Sodom's "gay military" vibe, Always on my Mind's joyous abandon, Integral's austerity, It's a Sin's driving darkness, Dreaming of the Queen's Princess Di film, Flamboyant's urgency. I would venture to say that the show in 1999 (Nightlife) was as much a spectacle, but this just seemed more them from the visuals to the choice of songs (they did, however, do a stunning tribute to Dusty on that tour for What Have I featuring a film of her running alonside Neil while her voice was synced to his by computer--she had recently passed away). Loads better than the stripped down rock approach of the Release tour as well.

While I could say I wish they had played more of Fundamental, I will be picking up their new double live CD "Concrete", which comes out next week as a UK import. It features amazing renditions of many of their songs (new ones too--can't wait to get the Liza version of Rent with Neil singing), and Robbie Williams (Jealousy) and Rufus Wainwright (Casanova in Hell). Also just got the Catalog book as a birthday gift--expensive but beautiful--excellent job putting that together. When you see it, you will be STUNNED. I know I am going a bit off topic, but there is so much Pet Shop stuff to talk about. Remember, they have two songs that were written & produced by them on the new Robbie Williams CD that releases Monday (Oct 23) in the UK.

Sorry I missed you XO--would have looked for you if I had known. BTW, DC is worse to navigate than NYC. Coming from Philly, I thought it might be simpler, but I got stuck in traffic TWICE (once on the approach of the beltway west from 95--sat for about an hour), it took me almost 4 1/2 hours to get to DAR, got so turned around in Silver Spring, and missed the first 10 minutes of the show! Won't be doing that again...at least traffic moves in NYC...ESPECIALLY on a Sunday night.

D'luv said...

Like Count Popula, I've seen PSBs on both their Nightlife and Release tours. But I would say that this tour looks (haven't seen it yet -- two more weeks!!) miles ahead in theatrics than the Nightlife one. That one was kind of sparse as far as dancers and visuals, I felt. The Fundamental tour looks most on par with their great Performance tour of '91, which if you haven't yet bought the DVD yet, shame on you all!

At least on the last two tours, they've always ended with "Go West," so that seems to be their staple finale.

I was wanting to not read your review, XO, until after I'd seen the show myself, but was lured into temptation! As always, wonderful, professional write-up, and really, you did a great job of not giving away too much for those of us yet to see it. Job well done!

Not sure if you or others are aware, but Neil did a wonderful, long interview while in D.C. on Voice Of America radio, which you can download and listen to here.

I've always felt that, like Anton Corbijn being the 5th member of U2, Sylvia Mason-James really is the 3rd Pet Shop Boy. She's so, so cool...

I interviewed John Aravosis, who does AmericaBlog, last year, and he talked a lot about Andrew Sullivan.

Finally, I'm so glad they're doing "Flamboyant!" I really think it's an overlooked masterpiece by them, since it was only on a greatest hits set.

Finally, part two -- this summer I read both Chris Heath books, Literally and Pet Shop Boys Vs. America -- which he wrote while traveling with the Boys on their '89 and '91 tours... you can get them off eBay for real cheap, if you've not read them yet. They really give great incite into the relationship of Neil and Chris, their method of working, how they perceive pop, their fans and America.

countpopula said...

I agree with D'luv about most PSB statements, although funnily enough, I have often thought of Pete Gleadall as the third PSB member. He has been their in-house programmer and sound sculptor, as well as pre-production supervisor since VERY (13 years), and was twiddling knobs offstage, yet you could see he was there the whole time. While Sylvia is the most prominent backup singer they've had now for a while, they have used others like Katie Kissoon and Tessa Niles as well. (Thankfully they haven't needed the services of all those guys from the Nightlife tour again--those sailor outfits--ack).