Last night was the Pet Shop Boys' latest concert, in promotion of their mostly brill new album, Electric. Like the title of their latest work, the evening was coursing with dangerous currents, both pleasurable and potentially dangerous.
I had sprung for the $95 meet-and-greet, buying it so long ago I almost forgot I had it. Met my good buddy Luigi—whom I'd met four years ago at the last PSB concert I attended when I photographed him in the front row!—beforehand, getting our laminates together. WTF is up with them demanding that VIPs arrive by 4:30PM on a weekday? We are spendthrifts, but we do have dayjobs, Boys.
Anyway, we killed an hour eating before returning for the actual meet-and-greet. They had about 150 (!) fans to meet, but it was handled quite well. We filed into a side door of the venue (the Beacon) and were surprised by Neil and Chris standing just inside the entrance. Most shocking, Chris looked fantastic (having recovered from looking quite ravaged a few years ago) and was smiley and chatty. It's like hearing Teller talk.
The guys volunteered to sign our laminates and happily signed one other item (for me, it was their $30 tour program, for Luigi, it was a CD booklet...why didn't I think to bring my Liza Minnelli Results sleeve?)
Chris was impressed that everything we bought came in a "Beacon Theatre" bag. Neil marveled at their own tour program.
I asked if they agreed with all the people who think music was somehow better in the '80s and who believe today's musicians are demonstrably worse, less creative, less artistic.
"Difficult to tell really..." Neil started cautiously.
"Music is so dependent on where you are in life. When you get old and jaded, the music gets old and jaded as well, I think," Chris offered.
"I think the thing about growing up with music is it's a very powerful thing," Neil chimed in. "It's how you consume it—"
"Everything's new when you're young," Chris said. "When you get older, everything sounds like you've heard it before."
"We could talk all night on this subject," Neil said, ending the conversation politely (enough).
Oh, NO PHOTOGRAPHY WHATSOEVER ALLOWED. I guess that even though I've now met them twice, the Pets are the '80s idols with whom I'll never get pictures. I think it has to do with vanity more than time, a supposition given credibility by how they choose to present themselves in the show.
We left, ate, then returned for "early entry, "which our VIP status granted us. Oh, joy! We got to go into the venue at 7 and stand outside the doors leading to the performance area until doors opened at 7:30.
Almost immediately I became aware of a a dreadful lady one seat over from me. Wearning a sort of sailor dress, she the expression of someone recently and inexpertly lobomotized. When the opener, Jacques Lu Cont (aka Stuart Price of Confessions on a Dance Floor and everything else fame), started his DJ set, she stood and danced maniacally, frequently tapping the shoulders of people around her to get them to share in her abandon. I wasn't paying attention to her at all, except I kept wondering if she would cross into my airspace, necessitating a shoot-down.
Bitch surprised me by grabbing my arm and saying, "You need to loosen up...have some fun!"
"I'm having a fine time, thank you. Don't worry about me," I spat, turning away with the rage of a juicehead percolating inside. The most annoying thing ever is when someone says to you, "Smile!" as it you need to be happy in order for them to be happy. Worse, I was only mildly unhappy, and only thanks to the threat that she would do something stupid like this.
Thankfully, a cool dude became my buffer and we chatted about what to expect from the show as well as about her mania. But the worst was yet to come. Four old queens (I'm one; I can say it) took seats in front of me, and two old queens took seats beside me. Ageism question: What's worse, six old queens dancing robustly and insisting on pointing at the stage and flailing their arms in the air/all around/in your face, or six young queens doing same? Answer: This is the old pound of floor/pound of feathers trick.
Despite the ridiculous distractions (the rest of the audience around me was like a still pond; some of the guys had their arms folded!) and the fact that some people feel the need to trample your feed and try to loudly and pushily impose their reactions on you in order to maximize their own joy, the concert itself was terrific. When I first heard the Pet Shop Boys' "West End Girls" while on a family trip to Hawaii in 1984 (won by my dad for selling insurance...that trip is a novel waiting to happen), I never would have dreamed they'd be my third favorite musical act and that 29 years later, they'd be presenting an edgy pop show that makes their younger peers look lazy and dull, but that's what happened.
The show begins with a scrim covering the Boys, singing in outrageous outfits even Lady Gaga might find "too much." The projections on the scrim (and throughout the show) were legendary, but I did want it to raise much sooner than it did. I think my big issue with the show (and the meet-and-greet!) is that the Boys, pushin' 60, seem too vain to proudly show themselves. With a scrim, masks, intensely saturated lighting, blinding lasers and strobes and enough fog to trigger PTSD in Adrienne Barbeau, I felt the only thing missing was an usher running around smearing Vaseline directly on our eyeballs. They're not young anymore, but it's okay by me—they music is eternally youthful, everfresh and always compelling.
I won't do a song-by-song catalogue, but the two choices that blew me away were the ice cold "I'm Not Scared," one of my favorite songs of all time as sung by Patsy Kensit, and a gloriously zesty "One More Chance." The crowd seemed most geeked for their seminal smash "It's a Sin," but I liked "Domino Dancing" even more. They barely performed anything from their new album (not even the single!), but the opener, "Axis," kicked things off as well as any of their old hits might've.
Of course there were a few songs I don't care about (mostly from within the past decade), and there were several I would have died to hear again, but how can you complain when they're reaching back as far as "West End Girls" and "Suburbia?" It was a hits-heavy show that nonetheless felt like the opposite of an oldies tour. At one point, the strobe effect was so mind-blowing I thought it might knock people off their feet. It's a wonder their two backup dancers, charged with wearing bizarre masks and jumping into each other's arms throughout all the confusion, didn't go into the audience accidentally.
The show was a compact 90 minutes plus two encores. Could I have handled more? Yes! But was it stingy? Not at all.
As the main set ended, I noticed Rufus Wainwright behind me so I introduced myself (we have a mutual pal). He was sweet and appreciated my compliment that he's a beautiful artist. In a way, the Pets are actually artist's artists themselves: They crafted their own unique brand, they experimented musically without selling out, they've always had provocative and successful tours. One came out as gay while one did not. They have remained vital, have had intensely interesting collaborations (Dusty Springfield, Liza Minnelli, Madonna, Stuart Price, Lady Gaga). In short, they are as complex and as cerebral as they seemed vapid and throaway when their first single dropped. They sing about vapidity, they don't embrace it. And that makes them different from a good many popstars today, who have their eyes on endorsement deals and stadium shows, not where and how to push a message.