story+ pics/ Adeline Tan
If the 80s ever made a comeback, it would be riding on the wave of the Pet Shop Boys’ Electric concert at the Beacon Theatre, NYC. I may have only been born on the cusps of the late 80s and early 90s, but frankly I would call myself a 80s kid through and through. Nobody did dance or synth-pop like the 80s did, and nobody did glitz, had as much panache or the ability to make people dance like the Pet Shop Boys. Show dance music at its greatest!
Night two of the two-night spectacle at the Beacon Theatre started off with Neil Tennant, main vocalist and frontman of the famed English electronic duo and Chris Lowe, keyboardist and occasional vocalist emerging behind a screen display. Never in my wildest new wave dreams have I ever thought I would be standing 20 feet away from the legendary Pet Shop Boys. Peering through the audience I felt like a fledgling amid the sea of older men and (some women) who lived through arguably the best years of music. The concert was more than just a concert to them, it was a journey back in time when house/dance music was a newfangled crusade and it was the age of change and advancement in music as well as culture.
Having sold 50 million records worldwide and listed as the most successful duo in UK music history, the Pet Shop Boys have been there and done that more times then Lady Gaga’s perpetual persona changes and getups. They made history, having worked with Liza Minnelli, David Bowie and Elton John, just to name a few groundbreaking artists. You can’t help but stand there in bewilderment.
Their 12th studio album Electric was released on the 12th of July 2013 and reached number 3 on the UK album charts in its first week of release. The opening tune of Electric, Axis faded in as the screen lit up with a giant rotating orange cone and the silhouettes of the Pet Shop Boys marching towards the crowd in their trademark cone hats and hulking wiry jackets. Dressed head to toe in a suit made out of long black plastic that resembled straws, Neil Tennant commanded our attention. The flamboyant costumes were out to play, and I was ready to receive it all. The duo started the concert with the first few songs behind a sheer curtain with projected images and moving videography that camouflaged them while distracting the audience. The projections were elaborate and captivating and in their later numbers they proceeded to “blind” the audience with polychromatic strobe lasers and darting lights. There should be a warning sign outside the theatre asserting, “This Concert May Cause Epileptic Seizures” as the lasers and lights license such distinction and reputation.
Transported to the 80s, the men standing behind me (probably in their late 40s) were dancing as though it was the music revolution and yelling in delight. Pure ecstasy read upon their faces as they watched the iconic synth-pop pioneers take the stage. The screen finally dropped for another retro hit, 1985’s Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money) for which Tennant took off the hat and glasses and finally moved about the stage.
Chris Lowe, behind the keyboards remained stoic, mouth firmly shut and his eyes shielded behind his various shades throughout the show. Lowe remained unyielding throughout the show, and he often stared straight ahead when his face was not completely concealed by masks, including, at one point, a full-on mirror disco ball. They have an approach to live performances that is both detached and pressing. The Pet Shop Boys’ tunes have the immediacy of dance music and disconnect of intelligent pop. Neil Tennant’s vocals balance the arch with the sweet while his lyrics use sarcasm and cynicism to ricochet very existent issues that drift below the layers of beats.
The Electric tour setlist was showered with crucial 80’s hits and the duo mixed it up well with intricate staging that featured ultra-dramatic costume changes throughout. Dancers wore neon orange costumes, ox skulls on their heads as they danced robustly behind the duo. Even as trippy as it was, Tennant offered his sparse lyrics to the songs and the music buzzed, sparkled and pulsed.
When Suburbia came on, the duo with their two accompanying dancers went on stage in their bizarre Minotaur heads and the crowd went wild. Everyone chanted along to the song like his or her lives depended on it. Thursday from their new album started with a surprise for the audience, a holographic guest appearance on the large screen from rapper Example.
This is when I realized a chance to see them perform live is a rare event, not to be taken lightly. I found the show weirdly enjoyable as the pulsating music took me to a different world. The Pet Shop Boys haven’t played in New York City in four years and within the 2-hour stretch, they moved along to greater hits from Domino Dancing to Always On My Mind, which was visibly a crowd pleaser (and probably one of the songs I knew all the words to). The costume designs warrant their own section in another article, it went from cottony orange headpieces to dunce caps, spikes and coiled shoulder pads. At one point, they came out in metal structured bull masks, all the flourishes, pulling out all the stops.
Their music had a harmonizing fleshiness and there was lushness to their sound. And how can we dismiss the songs with their strongest gay subtext It’s A Sin and Go West, which commissioned a thundering roar from every gay man (woman and child) in that venue. It was electric! We took the dancing to the streets, as they say. West End Girls, Opportunities and Rent closed the show. One by one knocking the audience off their feet.
Vocal, much like on Electric served as the huge finish to their concert. It was bold, flashy and on point. Sophisticated dance pop at its brightest. Despite it being a new song, it was a clear favorite of the audience. Their three-decade-old tunes have aged astonishingly well. There is a heartfelt romance to their music, despite the Pet Shop Boys being 80s dance/synth-pop gods who were making music since 1981, their music connects deeply. Who cares if the spectators consisted of predominantly elder gay men, 15 percent women and music nerds? I’m sure everyone had a grand old time!
And it did make me feel like jetting off to San Francisco. Yes, let us all Go West!
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