Concert Review: Pet Shop Boys Bring Some Super Songs to Portland

Pet Shop Boys in Portland (2016)
Pet Shop Boys at the Keller Auditorium in Portland

The Pet Shop Boys returned to Portland on Tuesday just three years after their first ever visit but this time the 80s icons took the stage at the Keller Auditorium in support of their 13th album Super which was released in April.

Sticking to their new foray into heavy bass beats and dance riffs as the last two albums attest, the evening felt very much like attending a nightclub though all eyes were directed towards the stage and the stars of the evening. Singer Neil Tennant and keyboardist Chris Lowe moved briskly through a 23 song set stretched over an hour and 45 minutes that sent thumping vibrations into a decent sized audience turnout from the start of the show through the final act.

But if the pop kids of the 80s who loved the pop hits of the same era were expecting the British duo to whisk them through a nostalgia act of radio hits and all those celebrated cuts, they quickly learned these two have been busy writing and recording new music.

The Boys started the show with “Inner Sanctum” off the new album, hit a familiar-favorite mixed with a cool dance beat in “West End Girls” then a return to the new album with the single “The Pop Kids” before another trip 30 years back to their first remix album Disco for the catchy and underrated “In the Night” then again to current fare with “Burn.”

By now, Tennant and Lowe changed outfits losing the odd looking pumpkin shaped headwear and were joined by three additional musicians on keyboards, organic drums and electronic percussion. The evening  continued as PSB dove into 2013’s Electric performing “Love Is a Bourgeois Construct” one of two songs from that album this evening, “New York City Boy” off 1999’s Nightlife and a touch of Caribbean on “Se A Vida É (That’s The Way Life Is)” from Bilingual  now 20 years old that felt a bit flat.

“Twenty-Something” brought the new album back to the stage and then the very popular “Love Comes Quickly” continuing the 30 year cycle trend but it was the last song played off the group’s smash album Please. The catchy “Love etc.” came next off 2009’s Yes album and then an extended run of new songs that unfortunately failed to capture the charm of so many of their hits.

The rather dark piece off Super “The Dictator Decides” featured a strange video backdrop with ants and its slow pace meandered a bit. Electric’s “Inside a Dream” didn’t help much to pick up the tempo. Nor did “Winner” which represented 2012’s Elysium and by the time the opening tract off 2002’s Release “Home and Dry” was done people started taking their seats.

After an instrumental with Lowe taking the spotlight which apparently is called “The Enigma” Tennant returned to the stage for the great “Vocal” another cut off Electric and the energy missing for the last 15 minutes or so slowly returned. “The Sodom and Gomorrah Show” tapped into 2006’s Fundamental and PSB of course continued with the religious theme bringing “It’s a Sin” infused with a delectable dance mix and a boost in bass that started a string of five fetching fan favorites to close the show.

By now everyone who sat was back on their feet and stayed upright as the Pet Shops Boys brought to life their third album Introspective with “Left to My Own Devices,” touched 1993’s Very with the cover song “Go West” and closed out the show with “Domino Dancing” and their other popular cover “Always on My Mind” both off Introspective.

The evening was signature Pet Shop Boys though much less choreography and those inspired Broadway style themes from past tours. Lasers throughout the night, along with a large video screen behind the stage and some interesting costumes changes. And the bass. Boy, was it heavy. Sometimes overpowering but often joyous nonetheless. Tennant’s vocals flowed smooth like melted butter. Flawless and sounding no different than when he and Lowe burst into the music scene in 1986.  You’d never know he turned 62 this summer.

Of course, not every new album can hold the same magnetism the Pet Shop Boys captured for their past efforts as their latest releases have more or less evolved from their keyboard centric beginnings but each possess a couple of solid gems worthy of rolling out that keeps the Pet Shop Boys Charm intact rather than the 20 or so minutes of mid-show dawdling when even the performers looked a bit bored.

“Happiness” the opening tract off Super though it may be lyrically challenged is certainly the most fun song off the album and no need to forget about Electric as “Axis” or “Fluorescent” would have helped keep up spirits.

At any rate, nearly half the setlist accounted for songs just 10 years old or less. If you haven’t been paying attention, the Pet Shops Boys have released five studio albums since 2009 and seven since the start of the new millennium. And, it’s certainly a welcome field to experience live such a wide variety of the band’s efforts as they could easily unveil two solid hours of hits and radio fare.

Instead they celebrate their present and honor their past.

Pet Shop Boys Portland Setlist (Keller Auditorium)

1.  Inner Sanctum
2.  West End Girls
3. The Pop Kids
4. In the Night
5.  Burn
6. Love Is a Bourgeois Construct
7. New York City Boy
8. Se A Vida É (That’s The Way Life Is)
9. Twenty-something
10. Love Comes Quickly
11. Love Etc.
12. The Dictator Decides
13.   Inside a Dream
14. Winner
15. Home and Dry
16. Instrumental – The Enigma
17. Vocal
18. The Sodom and Gomorrah Show
19. It’s a Sin
20. Left to My Own Devices
21. Go West
22. Domino Dancing
23. Always on My Mind

Written By: AndrewT

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