Live: Pet Shop Boys Being Not Particularly Boring at Hammerstein Ballroom
Pet Shop Boys Hammerstein Ballroom Tuesday, Sept. 1
Fans have come to expect certain things from a Pet Shop Boys show: Neil Tennant's dry but poignant vocals, Chris Lowe's concert-specific remixes of their classics, artsy visuals, experimental dancers, a few outfits, and, on a deeper level, communion. The first New York stop on the "Pandemonium" tour didn't disappoint on any of those fronts, kicking off with the high-gloss Italo-disco classic "Heart" as the duo emerged from a Pink Floyd-inspired "Wall" of white boxes, wearing translucent cubes on their heads. The next few songs were from their stately new album Yes, including the bouncy first single "Love, etc." and a wobbly medley of "Pandemonium" and the older "Can You Forgive Her?"
Throughout the night, '80s-style graffiti, Communist propaganda, black-and-white videos of the Boys themselves, and favela landscapes were projected onto the Wall, layers of which crumbled during "Go West" to accommodate dancers done up as Atari Olympians and "exploded" into dangling ornaments during the finale. Tennant's voice sounded remarkably unweathered, Lowe's synth work was on point, and the playlist ran to 20-plus new and old songs in almost two hours, including a surprising acid-house mashup of club rarities "Two Divided by Zero" and "Why Don't We Live Together?"
But as I was fidgeting with my camera and chanting "Che Guevara and Debussy to a disco beat," I noticed something unexpected in the frame: a lot of balding heads. Some of us have been dancing to these songs for a quarter-century now. That combination of nostalgia and theatrics hit a catharsis during the final flurry of confetti and sing-alongs: After a melancholy, tuxedo-clad interlude, they picked up the tempo with "Jealousy" and "Suburbia," then sashayed south of the border with a riotous medley of "Se a Vida é," "Discoteca," "Domino Dancing," and even Coldplay's "Viva La Vida." The finale, "It's a Sin," climaxed in a burst of hard house beats, operatic strings, and giant bursts of glitter. During the encore, bits of it were still aloft and sparkling as the crowd sang "Being Boring" pretty much in its entirety. Reclaiming the mic, Tennant closed us out, inevitably, with the evergreen "West End Girls," 25 years old itself. The "Girls" and Boys may all be a bit longer in the tooth these days, but the bite is still plenty sharp.
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