Sunday, September 29, 2013

'It's a Sin'-tillatingly Sensory -- If Not Quite Animalistic -- Evening with the Pet Shop Boys – Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Pet Shop Boys
Auditorium Theatre, Chicago
September 28, 2013

When I told my friend Dave that I would be seeing the Pet Shop Boys at the Auditorium on Saturday, he—despite being well aware that I've attended hundreds of concerts by everyone from Metallica to Madonna, Depeche Mode to Def Leppard, as well as virtually every Broadway musical of note—seemed surprised and said, "That doesn't seem like your type of thing." 

Granted, despite having a collection of albums—on CD and/or MP3—in the thousands, I have never owned anything by the Pet Shop Boys. Nor have I seen them previously in concert. 

But not only have I enjoyed the PSB songs that have pervaded the American mainstream--"West End Girls," "It's a Sin," "Opportunities (Let's Make Lots of Money)" and more—I appreciate music across many forms and formats by anyone who is really good, and seemingly genuine, about what they do. And as this blog should convey, I just love to see great shows. 

My friend Paolo, with whom I attended the Auditorium show, heralded the Pet Shop Boys—still comprised of Neil Tennant and Chris Loweas a live act, and YouTube clips I'd seen from their last tour, featuring dazzling video, lighting, costumes and more, certainly bespoke what I was in for.

In more ways than one. 

For while I loved the spectacle, and several of the songs, being there in person didn't feel all that different from watching a video. 

Over 100 minutes I was never bored, and though on a visceral level I likely would have considerably more enjoyed longtime favorites, The Stereophonics--who had announced a show at The Vic after I already had gotten Pet Shop Boys tickets--I'm not ruing that I went to this show instead. 

I can't say I derived much meaning or symbolism from the two people in weird costumes dancing around on stage--and they were distinct from Tennant and Lowe, also often adorned in weird costumes--but the sensory combination of the lights, video, dancing, music (much likely canned) and singing was impressive. 

And several production numbers, for lack of a better term, were terrifically creative, such as when Tennant and Lowe's cloaked heads were joined by video projections of lithe dancers (see photo).

While Tennant's brief stage patter seemed rather sparse and perfunctory for a guy who has been a bit of a media personality in Britain, his singing was strong. 

In addition to the hits cited above, highlights included "I Wouldn't Normally Do This Type of Thing," "Domino Dancing," "Thursday"--from 2013's Electric album--and their covers of "Always on My Mind" and "Go West."

A bit ironically, the last two songs cited were also heard the last time I was at the Auditorium, for the Broadway musical Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

In a way, this show felt more like theater than a rock concert, and not just due to the inclusion of "Somewhere" from West Side Story, complete with a couple doing ballet. ("Somewhere" followed "West End Girls"; continuing the directional theme "Go West" should have been next, but came several songs later as the main set closer.)

But--without meaning to imply I didn't like the performance; I did, but just didn't love it--not only did the Pet Shop Boys fall far short of matching the emotional impact recently provided by Depeche Mode (an "electronic" band some might perceive as similar), but they also didn't stir my soul like an outstanding Broadway musical does. 

Or, as I said to Paolo at the end, I very much enjoyed the spectacle and several of the songs, but unlike many a truly great concert, this one didn't change my life. 

So perhaps Dave was right, after all.

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