Talk about a show!
Disco’s biggest band stormed Chi-town Saturday night with a light and laser show that rivaled anything from Star Wars (the original Episode 4, of course) or those proton-pack lasers used by Chicago’s current favorite son Bill Murray and company to toast that giant marshmallow guy in 1984’s blockbuster, Ghostbusters.
With more than 30 years of technology to build upon since those iconic flicks were made, the Pet Shop Boys’ stage show was nothing short of stunning, with an awesomeness that was less about the mere presence of the lasers than it was about their sheer volume, brilliance and consistency.
And it’s a similar consistency that has propelled the Pet Shop Boys’ amazing 35-year career and made it nearly as impressive today as it was during their pop heyday of the mid-to-late 1980s. Their continued worldwide success, particularly in America’s (and other countries’) dance music scene, has made them the duo or group with more #1 singles (eleven) on the Billboard Dance Club Play chart than any other group in that chart’s 40-year history, which dates back to when it was known as a disco list. Incidentally, the Pet Shop Boys – made up of lead singer and keyboardist Neil Tennant and fellow keyboardist Chris Lowe – are the most successful duo in UK music history as well.
Chicago’s Civic Opera House was the venue for this leg of the PSB tour promoting their thirteenth and latest studio album, SUPER. The Saturday night sold-out performance drew more than 3500 people whose butts rarely, if ever, touched their seats from the time the first notes of SUPER’s “Inner Sanctum” kicked off the party to the show’s end (on a brief reprise of the album’s first single “The Pop Kids”) nearly two hours later.
I, for one, had never been to an indoor concert before this one where I remained standing from beginning to end. It was just that kind of party, one big ‘ol quasi-rave disco event featuring arguably the dance-music genre’s biggest band ever.
The Boys’ excellent performance contained a 23-song set list and included five hits from the new album, plus oldies spanning their entire career, dating back to the song that introduced most of the world to Tennant and Lowe: “West End Girls.” That #1 pop tune (and their first dance chart #1), from 1986, followed this year’s “Inner Sanctum” and preceded the third performed song, “The Pop Kids,” the single that – earlier this year gave them their eleventh #1 on Billboard’s dance chart and once again moved them ahead of Depeche Mode as the group with the most chart-toppers in dance history.
The 30 years spanning the #1 placements of “West End Girls” and “The Pop Kids” is second on the dance chart only to Madonna, whose chart-topping career spans 32-plus years.
Of course, PSB has etched its place in the record books with an array of classics that span all of dance music’s sub-genres, including disco, techno, hi-NRG, electro-house, deep house, trance, synth-pop, dance-pop and, of course, EDM. And all of that was on display on this abnormally warm fall Chicago evening, with pulsating beats, symphonic keyboard riffs, syncopated lights and persistent hand-claps filling the opera house air.
It also seemed fitting that Pet Shop Boys chose this historic venue to deliver its hit list to us. Its acoustics, usually suited to productions by the Lyric Opera of Chicago, perfectly complemented the melodrama and theatrics of the PSB performances. And with the venue’s liberal cellphone camera policy, I imagined I’d wake up the next day to dozens of Facebook or YouTube clips featuring the various dazzling techno-productions.
But perhaps the best part of the show was the musical factor: all the songs were performed in their original keys, which included Tennant’s trademark deadpan singing (or rapping) on tunes like “West End Girls,” “Burn,” “Love Is A Bourgeois Construct” and “Love Comes Quickly.” Admittedly, Tennant doesn’t have to heavily challenge his vocal chords to do the type of singing he does, so performing all the songs in their original keys is not much of a stretch for these pop kids.
However, the songs’ instrumental and vocal arrangements so resembled their originals that one couldn’t help but wonder whether they were prerecorded with Tennant lip-syncing his parts. To be clear, that was NOT the case (there was just enough improvisation by the Boys and their three backing musicians to show we were getting a truly live performance), which was a testimony to the precise technicians the Pet Shop Boys really are.
That precision continued with PSB performing more tunes old and new, including classics like 1987’s “It’s A Sin” and the following year’s “Left To My Own Devices,” as well as the Latin-tinged “Se a Vida É (That’s The Way Life Is)” from 1996. On the newer side, the Boys gave us “Love etc.” (2009), “Winner” (2012), “Vocal” (2013), and “Twenty-something” (2016).
The new stuff certainly didn’t disappoint, as many in attendance sang or mouthed the words to those tunes as well as the older ones with equal aplomb. Not surprisingly, I was more partial to the older stuff, which came in a much welcomed heavy dose at the end of the show.
To boot, the last five songs the band played were all released pre-1994, with the night’s obligatory crowd-singalong coming with “Domino Dancing” (1988) and the biggest fan reaction going to their last top-five pop hit, the remake of Elvis Presley’s (and Willie Nelson’s) “Always On My Mind.” When that song’s first seven keyboard notes were played, you’d have thought they’d just shown a replay of the final out in the Cubs’ thrilling Game 7 win with the way the crowd erupted. The 1988 classic easily contends as one of PSB’s most beloved tunes.
If there were any disappointments at all, they were rooted not in what or how the band performed…but on what they didn’t do. No PSB concert should ever be considered complete without their 1986 smash, “Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots Of Money),” which the band teased during the intro to their Village People remake of “Go West,” but did not perform outright.
And, with former duet partner (and British soul legend) Dusty Springfield no longer with us, it would have been a small challenge to pull off their second-biggest American pop hit, “What Have I Done To Deserve This” (my favorite PSB tune), although the use of all their technology to create a virtual duet would have been a nice added touch.
As it stood though, PSB gave us roughly two hours and two dozen bass-thumping, melody-friendly dance gems that served to illustrate to all us revelers why we came to see them in the first place: to celebrate dance music’s greatest ambassadors.
And to simply have a great time.
Oh, and here is the complete set list for their Chicago performance:
- Inner Sanctum
- West End Girls
- The Pop Kids
- In The Night
- Love is a Bourgeois Construct
- New York City Boy
- Se A Vida É
- Love Comes Quickly
- Love Etc.
- The Dictator Decides
- Inside a Dream
- Home And Dry
- The Enigma
- The Sodom and Gomorrah Show
- It’s A Sin
- Left To My Own Devices
- Go West
- Encore: Domino Dancing
- Always On My Mind
- Pop Kids outro