The Pet Shop Boys
When I mentioned to Boston promoter Chris Harris that the crowd at The Pet Shop Boys concert at Terminal 5 was mostly straight, he told me the crowd there was mostly gay. I told him that that was what I had expected ... But on second thought, it’s not really surprising that the duo would have such strong crossover appeal in New York.
The woman next to me already knew the playlist from their last concert. The crowd happily sang along to every song. To see a few thousand people punch their fists in their air while they yelled the refrain "Together!" was one of the most memorable moments in a concert filled with takeaways that will always be on my mind (another crowd favorite).
"Go West," another semi-satiric gay in-the-know joke song when originally recorded by the Village People in 1979, that night became fully realized as expressing longing for a utopian community.
Ever since they burst on the charts with their very first song, the smash hit, "West End Girls" back in 1984, the Boys tossed off one Circuit anthem after another. Their unique musical vocabulary, forged in the intense club and art-school scene of 1980s London forged the synthpop of groups like Depeche Mode the Police, the hands-off ür-Euro techno of Kraftwerk and Giorgio Moroder and Hi-NRG emo of Erasure.
"West End Girls" was just one of the many older songs reprised at the concert, to rapturous cheers. "Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)," "Domino Dancing" and "It’s a Sin" were among the other early hits. But it was the anthemic "Go West" that really sent the crowd into orbit.
The Pet Shop Boys have always managed somehow to combine unbeatable hooks with knowing, witty, incisive lyrics that just barely skirt cynicism. "Suburbia" and the techno-flavored cover of "Somewhere" showed how well the Boys balance idealism with hard-headed reality.
Pet Shop Boys concerts have become the stuff of legend for their over-the-top Space Age costumes that put Labelle to shame, stunning lasers and running jokes like two horse-head back-up dancers, orange lab coats worn by stage and tech crew, a liquid motherboard and wacky visuals like being wheeled out in a cloth-covered box that projected various swimming poses while the back projection showed underwater two men in suits.
All of this provided a suitable framework for Neil Tennant’s nasal British rasp. Since so much of the music was necessarily pre-recorded, Chris Lowe didn’t really have all that much to do. I have to agree here with The Guardian, which memorably commented that Lowe was "possibly more famous for not doing anything than almost anyone else in the history of popular entertainment." But he does it superbly.
The prerecorded nature of the evening really came home, however, when rapper Example came on the back screen during "Thursday." The back screen more than justified itself, however, in the beginning of the evening, when the duo was introduced with a mind-blowing trip that began with a whirling cone that morphed into a lightning-fast trip through a tunnel that turned into a subway and God knows what before the Tennant and Lower suddenly emerged behind a scrim curtain.
My only disappointment (if it can be called that) was their love letter to their host city "New York City Boy" for an encore. But the haunting "It’s Alright" was probably a more suitable coda: "I hope it’s gonna be alright/’Cause the music plays forever/Generations will come and go/But there’s one thing for sure/Music is our life’s foundation." For the legion of Pet Shop Boys fans, "the music plays forever."
Even so, for this fan, another song from the concept album "Very," "I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind of Thing," was the one that really got me where I lived.
The gay parable of a suppressed guy who, inspired by love, wants to let go, "taking all my clothes off/dancing to the ’Rite of Spring’ " perfectly encapsulates the Pet Shop Boys’ ability to encompass the full range of human emotions while taking dance-pop to a level of unmatched intellectual sophistication.
The Pet Shop Boys at Terminal 5 (the old Exit) at 610 W. 56th St. in Hell’s Kitchen on April 26.