Pet Shop Boys on Tour
"What a nice way to spend at Tuesday night," said Neil Tennant in his first comment between songs at the Pet Shop Boys concert on April 8. He was addressing the crowd in an informal friendly way from the stage of the Fox Theater in Oakland for the beginning of this phase of their tour for the release of Electric.
His informal manner was entirely appropriate, because it was clear that the audience was in their corner and loved every minute of the concert. So when he mentioned midway through the concert that he was nervous about coming back to the Fox seven months since they had last been there (and with only one song changed from that previous concert), well, he needn’t have been.
A Pet Shop Boys show is a joyous celebration in so many ways. As you would expect from artists who are just two years away from the 30th anniversary of their first release, though they feature music from their most recent release, it does not dominate the concert. I was impressed by how thoroughly their catalogue was represented from three cuts off of their first two releases Please ("Opportunities," "West End Girls" and "Suburbia") and Actually ("Rent" and "It’s A Sin") to songs from the two prior to Electric, Yes ("Love, etc.") and Elysium ("Leaving"). This had the effect of making the concert a sort of greatest hits event, so that fans of any particular period of their music would feel welcomed and appreciated.
It’s important to note, however, that much of what distinguishes the Electric tour from previous tours is the presentation, of which the Pet Shop Boys have become masters. Es Devlin, who designed the 2012 Olympic closing ceremonies in London, is the director and designer of this concert tour and it was clear from the DJ set, which preceded the concert through the platform for Chris Lowe’s keyboards, that the entire affair was a celebration of circuitry and all things electronic.
Likewise, costume designer Jeffrey Bryant, who has worked with the Pet Shop Boys in the past (as well as Lady Gaga, the Rolling Stones and Tina Turner) has his imprint clearly on this tour, from the orange glasses and lab coats that the stagehands and sound board people wear, through the spikey coat that Tennant first appears on stage wearing, to the disco ball helmet that Lowe dons partway through the show. Of particular note are the bull head costumes dancers Merry Holden and Tom Herron wear at various parts of the concert. They give a primitive feel to the whole event which is two parts Minoan bull dancer to one part Hopi Kachina.
Given that the whole affair begins with an extraordinarily futuristic video for "Axis" (from Electric), produced by video designer Luke Halls (who has worked with the Royal Opera House), you get the feeling that the scope of this concert comprises much of human history - from the far past to the future.
The "bull head" section in the Pet Shop Boys’ current concert extravaganza
When listening to the concert, I was once again amazed at how the Pet Shop Boys have been able to include the political in their music in a manner which (give that it’s dance music) is somewhat covert. So when they perform "Integral" (from Fundamental) and sing, "If you’ve done nothing wrong, You’ve got nothing to fear, If you’ve something to hide, You shouldn’t even be here," I realize that it was written about political events in the UK, but cannot escape the echoes of recent NSA revelations.
Likewise, when they sing "Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)," I realize that it was written to reflect the greed and economic disparity in Thatcher’s England, but cannot help but feel that it relates to the cultural strip-mining which has been occurring in the Bay Area in the 21st century.
So, given the political implications of a Pet Shop Boys concert, I was particularly disappointed when the audience ignored and talked its way through the video preceding the concert of "Oppressive (The Best Gay Possible)" which features Irish drag queen Panti Bliss and her amazing diatribe about homophobia at Ireland’s national theater The Abbey. The video features shots of gay-bashing from Russia, hangings from Iran and pictures of notorious homophobes from the late Fred Phelps to the Ugandan dictator Yoweri Museveni. Given that the audience was at least half gay, it was irritating that it didn’t have their full attention.
With the exception of that, however, it was an astounding concert. If you should happen to read this review in advance of the Pet Shop Boys coming to your area (there are eight concerts scheduled so far across the U.S., ending in New York on April 26), you would be well advised to get tickets in advance to this concert. It’s eye popping, it’s entertaining and you will hear songs from their back catalog that’ll make you nostalgic, and a light show that will feel like you’ve seen the future.