Concert Review: Pet Shop Boys Bring Some Super Songs to Portland

pet-shop-boys

The Pet Shop Boys returned to Portland on Tuesday just three years after their first ever visit but this time the 80s icons took the stage at the Keller Auditorium in support of their 13th album Super which was released in April.

Sticking to their new foray into heavy bass beats and dance riffs as the last two albums attest, the evening felt very much like attending a nightclub though all eyes were directed towards the stage and the stars of the evening. Singer Neil Tennant and keyboardist Chris Lowe moved briskly through a 23 song set stretched over an hour and 45 minutes that sent thumping vibrations into a decent sized audience turnout from the start of the show through the final act.

But if the pop kids of the 80s who loved the pop hits of the same era were expecting the British duo to whisk them through a nostalgia act of radio hits and all those celebrated cuts, they quickly learned these two have been busy writing and recording new music.

The Boys started the show with “Inner Sanctum” off the new album, hit a familiar-favorite mixed with a cool dance beat in “West End Girls” then a return to the new album with the single “The Pop Kids” before another trip 30 years back to their first remix album Disco for the catchy and underrated “In the Night” then again to current fare with “Burn.”

By now, Tennant and Lowe changed outfits losing the odd looking pumpkin shaped headwear and were joined by three additional musicians on keyboards, organic drums and electronic percussion. The evening  continued as PSB dove into 2013’s Electric performing “Love Is a Bourgeois Construct” one of two songs from that album this evening, “New York City Boy” off 1999’s Nightlife and a touch of Caribbean on “Se A Vida É (That’s The Way Life Is)” from Bilingual  now 20 years old that felt a bit flat.

“Twenty-Something” brought the new album back to the stage and then the very popular “Love Comes Quickly” continuing the 30 year cycle trend but it was the last song played off the group’s smash album Please. The catchy “Love etc.” came next off 2009’s Yes album and then an extended run of new songs that unfortunately failed to capture the charm of so many of their hits.

The rather dark piece off Super “The Dictator Decides” featured a strange video backdrop with ants and its slow pace meandered a bit. Electric’s “Inside a Dream” didn’t help much to pick up the tempo. Nor did “Winner” which represented 2012’s Elysium and by the time the opening tract off 2002’s Release “Home and Dry” was done people started taking their seats.

After an instrumental with Lowe taking the spotlight which apparently is called “The Enigma” Tennant returned to the stage for the great “Vocal” another cut off Electric and the energy missing for the last 15 minutes or so slowly returned. “The Sodom and Gomorrah Show” tapped into 2006’s Fundamental and PSB of course continued with the religious theme bringing “It’s a Sin” infused with a delectable dance mix and a boost in bass that started a string of five fetching fan favorites to close the show.

By now everyone who sat was back on their feet and stayed upright as the Pet Shops Boys brought to life their third album Introspective with “Left to My Own Devices,” touched 1993’s Very with the cover song “Go West” and closed out the show with “Domino Dancing” and their other popular cover “Always on My Mind” both off Introspective.

The evening was signature Pet Shop Boys though much less choreography and those inspired Broadway style themes from past tours. Lasers throughout the night, along with a large video screen behind the stage and some interesting costumes changes. And the bass. Boy, was it heavy. Sometimes overpowering but often joyous nonetheless. Tennant’s vocals flowed smooth like melted butter. Flawless and sounding no different than when he and Lowe burst into the music scene in 1986.  You’d never know he turned 62 this summer.

Of course, not every new album can hold the same magnetism the Pet Shop Boys captured for their past efforts as their latest releases have more or less evolved from their keyboard centric beginnings but each possess a couple of solid gems worthy of rolling out that keeps the Pet Shop Boys Charm intact rather than the 20 or so minutes of mid-show dawdling when even the performers looked a bit bored.

“Happiness” the opening tract off Super though it may be lyrically challenged is certainly the most fun song off the album and no need to forget about Electric as “Axis” or “Fluorescent” would have helped keep up spirits.

At any rate, nearly half the setlist accounted for songs just 10 years old or less. If you haven’t been paying attention, the Pet Shops Boys have released five studio albums since 2009 and seven since the start of the new millennium. And, it’s certainly a welcome field to experience live such a wide variety of the band’s efforts as they could easily unveil two solid hours of hits and radio fare.

Instead they celebrate their present and honor their past.

Pet Shop Boys Portland Setlist (Keller Auditorium)

1.  Inner Sanctum
2.  West End Girls
3. The Pop Kids
4. In the Night
5.  Burn
6. Love Is a Bourgeois Construct
7. New York City Boy
8. Se A Vida É (That’s The Way Life Is)
9. Twenty-something
10. Love Comes Quickly
11. Love Etc.
12. The Dictator Decides
13.   Inside a Dream
14. Winner
15. Home and Dry
16. Instrumental – The Enigma
17. Vocal
18. The Sodom and Gomorrah Show
19. It’s a Sin
20. Left to My Own Devices
21. Go West
22. Domino Dancing
23. Always on My Mind

Written By: AndrewT

Concert Review: Pet Shop Boys Celebrate First Ever Stop in Portland

The Pet Shop Boys stopped in Portland for the first time in their notable 30-plus year career on Friday night at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall and celebrated keyboardist Chris Lowe’s birthday in style with a 23-song set that lasted 100 minutes but was so engaging and entertaining it felt like half that.

The British pop duo who, like many synth-heavy bands, found fame in the 1980s with hits like “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” and “It’s a Sin” dazzled with a spectacular lights and laser show. At times the evening felt much less concert and more of an almost psychedelic musical complete with an orchestra.

Touring their 12th album Electric, the show was stripped down as far as gear from past US tours that visited primarily major cities like Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. The stage displayed a bare appearance save for two see-through video screens (one featured a circuit board pattern) and a very elaborate-looking keyboard. The purest would find no drums or guitars.

Much of the Boys’ music consisted of pre-recorded tracks, which the group readily admits is a part of their act, with Lowe playing the major chorus on keyboards and Neil Tennant on vocals. In fact the opening song, “Axis,” the first tract off Electric was thoroughly sampled until Tennant and Lowe appeared from backstage to play “One More Chance.”

The artistry to their music is clearly at the forefront. You’d be hard-pressed to find another band utilizing the amount of lights, strobe lights, lasers and fog as Pet Shop Boys incorporate into their show. Tennant and Lowe were often accompanied on stage by two interpretive dancers wearing outlandishly cool outfits with even more extravagant head wear like bull skulls, bright orange pom-poms and baskets.

Tennant did a solid job on vocals and performed effortlessly through every song. The duo often sported arresting outfits changing often during the show. Tennant and Lowe first emerged looking like human garland and then later with their dancers wore similar bull-skull head wear.  At one point their clothes appeared florescent seemingly changing color at will.

Pet Shop Boys didn’t waste any time showing why they propelled to the top of the charts playing “Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money),” third on the night though it felt abbreviated from the original. “Fugitive” a B-side from the 2006’s Fundamental sampled a great night club beat, and “Integral,” from the same album and “Leaving,” the first track from last year’s Elysium show the Boys never forgot their 80s roots.

Friday’s setlist peppered the hits with B-sides, deeper album cuts and four tracks from Electric. “Suburbia” held up strong after nearly 30 years with running fog machines competing with Portland’s natural autumn occurrence.

“I’m Not Scared” brought a hypnotizing display of lasers polka dotting the theater and entire audience in an almost 3D transcendent experience. “Love etc.” from 2009’s Yes featured Tennant and Lowe in an almost uproarious skit with both up-right in separate beds, complete with pillows, and their white sheets –up to their necks – acting as a projector screen that showed video of their bodies moving around in their sleep.

At times, the canned bass line dominated the rest of the music, especially on “Fluorescent” when Tennant’s vocals were hardly understandable and the popular “West End Girls” failed to impress as did “Miracles.” Despite the sometimes overpowering backing tracks the entire show proved to be an unparalleled mix of a concert/musical/theatrical experience.

PSB certainly didn’t forget what propelled them to fame once Tennant said, “OK Portland, here we go” and the first set closed with the crowd jumping to their feet for feet “It’s a Sin,” “Domino Dancing” and their well-done cover of “Always on My Mind.” The encore included a cover of the Village People’s “Go West” and the fantastic techno-influenced “Vocal” off of Electric.

Pet Shop Boys may have fallen off the music radar in the United States but the duo is a strong force in their native United Kingdom and have released five albums since 2002 and a host of compilations over the years. They’ve never strayed from their synth and keyboard-heavy brand of pop dance music – the backbone of Electric – and continue to create rhythmical charming melodies.

Pet Shop Boys Portland (Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall) Setlist:

  1. Axis
  2. One More Chance
  3. Opportunities
  4. Meaning of the Future
  5. Fugitive
  6. Integral
  7. I wouldn’t Normally do this kind of thing
  8. Suburbia
  9. I’m Not Scared
  10. Fluorescent
  11. West End Girls
  12. Somewhere
  13. Leaving
  14. Thursday
  15. Love, Etc.
  16. I Get Excited
  17. Rent
  18. Miracles
  19. It’s a Sin
  20. Domino Dancing
  21. Always on my Mind
  22. Go West
  23. Vocal

Written By: AndrewT