The Pet Shop Boys stopped in Portland for the first time in their notable 30-plus year career on Friday night at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall and celebrated keyboardist Chris Lowe’s birthday in style with a 23-song set that lasted 100 minutes but was so engaging and entertaining it felt like half that.
The British pop duo who, like many synth-heavy bands, found fame in the 1980s with hits like “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” and “It’s a Sin” dazzled with a spectacular lights and laser show. At times the evening felt much less concert and more of an almost psychedelic musical complete with an orchestra.
Touring their 12th album Electric, the show was stripped down as far as gear from past US tours that visited primarily major cities like Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. The stage displayed a bare appearance save for two see-through video screens (one featured a circuit board pattern) and a very elaborate-looking keyboard. The purest would find no drums or guitars.
Much of the Boys’ music consisted of pre-recorded tracks, which the group readily admits is a part of their act, with Lowe playing the major chorus on keyboards and Neil Tennant on vocals. In fact the opening song, “Axis,” the first tract off Electric was thoroughly sampled until Tennant and Lowe appeared from backstage to play “One More Chance.”
The artistry to their music is clearly at the forefront. You’d be hard-pressed to find another band utilizing the amount of lights, strobe lights, lasers and fog as Pet Shop Boys incorporate into their show. Tennant and Lowe were often accompanied on stage by two interpretive dancers wearing outlandishly cool outfits with even more extravagant head wear like bull skulls, bright orange pom-poms and baskets.
Tennant did a solid job on vocals and performed effortlessly through every song. The duo often sported arresting outfits changing often during the show. Tennant and Lowe first emerged looking like human garland and then later with their dancers wore similar bull-skull head wear. At one point their clothes appeared florescent seemingly changing color at will.
Pet Shop Boys didn’t waste any time showing why they propelled to the top of the charts playing “Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money),” third on the night though it felt abbreviated from the original. “Fugitive” a B-side from the 2006’s Fundamental sampled a great night club beat, and “Integral,” from the same album and “Leaving,” the first track from last year’s Elysium show the Boys never forgot their 80s roots.
Friday’s setlist peppered the hits with B-sides, deeper album cuts and four tracks from Electric. “Suburbia” held up strong after nearly 30 years with running fog machines competing with Portland’s natural autumn occurrence.
“I’m Not Scared” brought a hypnotizing display of lasers polka dotting the theater and entire audience in an almost 3D transcendent experience. “Love etc.” from 2009’s Yes featured Tennant and Lowe in an almost uproarious skit with both up-right in separate beds, complete with pillows, and their white sheets –up to their necks – acting as a projector screen that showed video of their bodies moving around in their sleep.
At times, the canned bass line dominated the rest of the music, especially on “Fluorescent” when Tennant’s vocals were hardly understandable and the popular “West End Girls” failed to impress as did “Miracles.” Despite the sometimes overpowering backing tracks the entire show proved to be an unparalleled mix of a concert/musical/theatrical experience.
PSB certainly didn’t forget what propelled them to fame once Tennant said, “OK Portland, here we go” and the first set closed with the crowd jumping to their feet for feet “It’s a Sin,” “Domino Dancing” and their well-done cover of “Always on My Mind.” The encore included a cover of the Village People’s “Go West” and the fantastic techno-influenced “Vocal” off of Electric.
Pet Shop Boys may have fallen off the music radar in the United States but the duo is a strong force in their native United Kingdom and have released five albums since 2002 and a host of compilations over the years. They’ve never strayed from their synth and keyboard-heavy brand of pop dance music – the backbone of Electric – and continue to create rhythmical charming melodies.
Pet Shop Boys Portland (Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall) Setlist:
- One More Chance
- Meaning of the Future
- I wouldn’t Normally do this kind of thing
- I’m Not Scared
- West End Girls
- Love, Etc.
- I Get Excited
- It’s a Sin
- Domino Dancing
- Always on my Mind
- Go West