Concert Review: Pet Shop Boys in Toronto

September 27, 2013


Pet Shop Boys // Electric Tour // Sept 25 2013 // Sony Centre for the Performing Arts // Toronto

I’d been waiting (somewhat passively, assuming it’d never happen) to see Pet Shop Boys live for over 25 years.  So for me to be disappointed they’d have to be pretty terrible and put on a spectacularly poor show. Which, of course, they weren’t (terrible) and it wasn’t (poor) and I wasn’t (disappointed).

I’m also glad I got to see them supporting this album. Not because Electric is my favourite set of songs but because they subtly reworked the older material to fit with the hardcore house/techno sound of Electric. In the mini-medley that starts the show, “Once More Chance” sizzles with electronic gusto and gut-punching kick drums like never before. Not that I’ve ever thought their early stuff needed to be updated, but hearing “I Get Excited (You Get Excited Too)” beefed up to post-millennial, über-compressed, EDM standards was simply glorious.

The set list (see below) was almost tailor made for me as well. Inevitably, there’s personal favourites I missed (mostly Bilingual era material like “Before“, “Red Letter Day” or “Discoteca“). And I would have switched up “Flamboyant” for “Miracles” and “Love Comes Quickly” for “Rent“. “Integral” was nearly NIN-level pummeling and sinister, but maybe “Minimal” would have fit the show better. Also, since they dipped into the b-side bank with “I Get Excited” it seemed a brazen missed opportunity not to pull out “Blue On Blue” which is one of their their best heavy-synth crackers ever. But since I love “Rent”, “Miracles” and “Integral” this is all mere quibbling.

I definitely missed “Paninaro” though and I would have rather had it than “Domino Dancing“. But judging from how people LOST THEIR FREAKIN’ MINDS over “Domino”, I might have been in a minority.

Still, hearing a packed house chanting the “Paninaro” chorus would have been supreme. Like some sort of pagan soccer-mob ritual.

I knew it wasn’t going to happen though when Chris Lowe forwent his spoken part on “Thursday“—one of my only real disappointments of the evening. I felt they could could have at least sampled his monotone “Thursday… Friday… Saturday…. Sunday…” part and perhaps played him saying it on the video scrim like they did with Example (or as I like to call him Fake Drake) doing the song’s rap-break. Regardless, he clearly wasn’t going to step up to recite his “Paninaro” lead.

Most importantly, for me, they didn’t play any of the mere hand full of their relatively popular tunes that tend to annoy me. There was no “Winner“, no “Se a Vida é“, no “Numb” and though I like it well enough on it’s own, no “Invisible” which would have destroyed the flow.

The light show was, simply, fucking brilliant—both literally and figuratively (the “brilliant” part, not the “fucking” part).

I’m shocked that I (or at least someone in the audience) didn’t suffer from a strobe-induced seizure or was blinded by the Borg cube phaser array. It was like being inside a laser-powered Pokemon hedgehog from some sort of Tron-Matrix. Mesmerizing, magical. Also, how did that security guard at stage-left not collapse from smoke-machine inhalation?

Actually, the whole show had a sort of super nerdy, Universal Studios sci-fi film ride feel to it. Which made sense given the audience demographic. We were seated in the balcony and, during the HOUR AND A HALF WAIT for the show to start, got a pretty good look at the punters below. Mainly 45+ and nerdy. Though a few had thin, twink boyfriends, most were a bit overweight. Not “bears” though, just Michael Moore type comic-shop nerds. I read an interview recently where Chris Lowe was surprised that radio programmers have begun telling them they’re too old to have their records played on current top-40 playlists. Well, judging by the audience those programmers have a valid point. No “Little Monsters” here. It’s rare that (at almost 41) I feel like pretty much the youngest member of an audience—aside from the 5-10 year olds dragged their by their parents.

None of the above (except for the wait) should be read as criticism or complaint—I loved it!

So did the guy beside me who, every time one of his favourite songs, began would lurch forward, involuntarily, with his hand flailing they they were attached to marionette strings controlled by an over-caffeinated ferret. When the introductory synth-blast of “Always On My Mind” kicked-in, he exclaimed, “Nyyyahhhhngghhhh-ahh!

I seriously wish I could care about anything in life like that guy. He was having a serious religious experience.

I wondered why he hadn’t purchased the deluxe “meet-and-greet” VIP package. Maybe he missed the purchase-window. Or, perhaps, like myself, he didn’t want the Pet Shop Boys to become just Neil and Chris from the green room who he’d been chatting with a few hours before.

I’d actually had my finger on the purchase button for the VIP pass as soon as they went on sale, but then decided against it. They’ve been icons in my life for too long. It would be too surreal to see them as a couple of fairly regular middle-aged men. I don’t want them humanized in my eyes and especially not in such a contrived scenario. If a ran into Neil Tennant in a London bookshop, that’d be one thing (I wouldn’t approach him then either), but the whole idea of paying a premium to chat with your idols is just too bizarre. Actually, I suspect my neighbour couldn’t have kept his shit together meeting them. He’d have had a nervous, sweaty, breakdown.

Anyway, the Electric show is a smaller scale affair from the Cubism and Pandemonium tours. Though those Broadway-style shows (captured gloriously on DVD) are impressive, I’m glad this was a scaled-down tour in the sense that the Sony Centre is about the largest venue I’d like to see it in. If the show had been at the ACC, I probably wouldn’t have gone. Judging by the Cubism DVD, filmed in a huge stadium in Mexico, the concert looked like a hellish (and utterly pointless) experience for anyone more than ten rows back. The same goes for their iconic Performance shows from 1992. Probably great, but only if you weren’t in the nosebleeds.

The one thing missing at this show from those more elaborate tours is the quality of the dancers. Either the two who appeared at the Toronto show were having an off night (too much partying in Montreal?) or they just aren’t in the same league.

Their costumes though… amazing. Those Minotaur masks are fabulous and deliciously nightmare-inducing. During “I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind Of Thing” Neil and Chris complement those headdresses with what appear to be Loki and Transformers inspired costumes—a nerdy throwback to Neil’s days editing the UK editions of Marvel comics?

Ultimately, the show was a lot of fun, with a lot more humour than you might expect (the staging of “Love, Etc” was simply charming and delightfully weird). Well worth a 25+ year wait. Especially Chris’ mirror-ball helmet.

Setlist via www.setlist.fm:

  1. Axis
  2. One More Chance
  3. A Face Like That
    (Snippet of One More Chance at the end)
  4. Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)
  5. Memory of the Future
  6. Fugitive
  7. Integral
  8. I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind of Thing
    (Preceded by sample of The Rite of Spring)
  9. Suburbia
  10. I’m Not Scared
  11. Fluorescent
  12. West End Girls
  13. Somewhere
  14. Leaving
  15. Thursday
  16. Love Etc.
  17. I Get Excited (You Get Excited Too)
  18. Rent
  19. Miracles
  20. It’s a Sin
  21. Domino Dancing (Included portion sung just by the audience)
  22. Always on My Mind  (Included portion sung just by the audience)
  23. Go West
  24. Vocal

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