I can sum it all up in two words:
Oh, yes. The Pet Shop Boys brought their live show back in a big way.
Say what you will about how great 2006's 'Fundamental' album is/was - better than 'Release'! Oh wait, even past that it's quite good on its own merits, isn't it? - the tour behind it was...well, a bit lacking. Some very welcome set list surprises to be sure - "Shopping"! "Flamboyant"! Did I mention "S-H-O-PP-I-N-G"?! - but the stage show itself was a bit boring even with the kind-of-neat-but-could-have-been-used-to-better-effect evolving boxes. Those dancers? Terrible. Even the music wasn't as mixed up as they usually get for the live show, giving you the same effect of staying at home and turning up the records really, really loudly.
I am very, very happy to report that all of those problems have been fixed and Pandemonium - On Tour ranks up there with Performance and Discovery in terms of Pet Shop Boys tours. Yes, I said it.
First, the set list! When it first appeared on the internet, people were very quick to cry "FAKE!", and with good reason. Not only did it contain just half of current album 'Yes' but there were some real oddballs and too-good-to-be-true songs on there. "Two divided by zero"? "Why don't we live together?"? "Do I have to?"? Did someone expect us to believe this?
Except believe it we had to because it was real. Much like the set lists from PJ Harvey's tour behind 'Uh Huh Her', it's as if the Boys got bored in the studio one day, wrote down all of their songs on little pieces of paper, threw them into a hat and picked out the first 20 or so to be the set list for the upcoming tour. It is, honestly, as close as you can reasonably expect to get to a perfect Pet Shop Boys set list in 2009.
[So, of course I've some issues with it. First - please stop it with "Se a vida e". It's one of your three worst singles ever and we don't need to hear it every tour. Thank you for using "Discoteca" as the ending coda to it, that was very welcome - maybe do that one instead next time? Thanks.
Second - the Boys obviously have a vast catalogue and you're never going to be able to fit everything you want to into one show, particularly when you're as chained to a non-changing set list as their shows require you to be. The medley of hits at the Brits was fun and even necessary in such a situation, but layering one song on top of another and/or teasing us with something we wanted to hear a lot - say, "Closer to heaven" - before launching into something we wanted to hear less - "Left to my own devices" in this example, which it should be mentioned had been teased a song earlier leading into something we wanted to hear even less, "Always on my mind" - got a bit tiring. That said, did we need to hear "Go West" again? Probably not. Did we need to hear "Go West" with the beats of "Paninaro"? Abso-fucking-lutely. So thank you.
Third - "New York City boy"? Really? Oh well.]
Gripe #1 over.
As mentioned before, the set list doesn't change from show to show so there's no point in reproducing it here. I will, however, talk about some of the highlights:
ONE: "Two divided by zero" / "Why don't we live together?": with a bit of "In the night" thrown in for good measure. Where do we begin? First, two completely overlooked gems from 'Please' - which is overlooked in its own right, all you ever hear about are the singles - back to back for a nice flashback to 1986. As if that wasn't enough, during the former we got a cube-head fashion show and the latter not only brought us singing and dancing skyscrapers but also a Chris Lowe dance. Check this shit out:
Amazing. Following it with "Always on my mind" was mean - yes, we get it you need to play the #1s but let us down from our shock high a little easier next time.
TWO: Starting the show with a "More than a dream" tease before launching into "Heart". With cubeheads for everyone! The only downside of this was we didn't get a proper "More than a dream", but it was worth the sacrifice. [PS - "Heart" makes a great opener even if I never would have thought of it myself.]
THREE: The slow section in the middle. Yes, I loved the slow section. People don't usually say that, but here goes. You've just finished the one-two punch of "Always on my mind" and "Left to my own devices" and the crowd is going apeshit. [I might be tired of the former but apparently I'm the only one.] It's time to follow up with another hit. So we get a Chris Lowe piano solo [*SWOON*] followed by a down-tempo b-side, "Do I have to?" And it totally works. I'll admit, I've never been a big fan of the song but this performance totally changed my mind about it. Beautiful. AND THEN, let's morph that into "King's Cross" and get everyone super wistful. Check and check. Next we'll pick up the tempo ever so slightly with the also not-exactly-uplifting-but-gorgeous "The way it used to be". Done. Finally, cap the section off with an absolutely MASSIVE rendition of "Jealousy". Perfect. It's so thrilling - again, remember this is the slow section - that my excitement carries me through *yawn* "Suburbia" [again, fine but it's been done] into...
FOUR: "ALL OVER THE WORLD". Why isn't this a fucking single? As ridiculous as you'd think it would be live and then some. As great as their singles discography is, the Boys have had plenty of missed opportunities in that department but this one shoots right to the top spot of "Pet Shop Boys songs that should have been singles". Seriously.
Then they ruin that with "Se a vida e" *eyeroll* and the not-as-bad-as-I-was-expecting-but-overall-kind-of-pointless "Viva la Vida" cover over the backing track to "Domino dancing". At least we got to see Neil in a crown and cape walking around a park with an umbrella.
"It's a sin", duh, ends the main set. It is, of course, HUGE. They disappear and come back for...
FIVE and SIX: "Being boring" and - wait for it - "West End girls". Yes, "West End girls" was a highlight. They did it dance mix style, for heavens sake. I thought I was tired of it, but I totally wasn't.
Not to gloss over "Being boring" - gorgeous. Stunning. I was going to call "Jealousy" their best slowie but I'd have to save it for this one. There's a reason this is a fan favorite - no, THE fan favorite.
Question one: when's the DVD?
Question two: when's the next tour? [I've decided it has to include "Violence". It just has to.]
Oh yes, quick Gripe #2: the tour merchandise was terrible this go round. T-shirt selections:
- a red shirt with the "Go West" buttons printed on the front. A bit late with this one, aren't we?
- a black shirt with a gold/purple/shiny Pandemonium "P" on the front. Kind of tacky and unwearable - though Neil was rocking it for the first part of the show. He's so cool and uncool all at the same time, I love it.
- a white shirt with the 'Yes' checkmark on the front and "YES" in black letters on the back. Not bad, but white shirts are kind of terrible. Would've been AMAZING on black.
- a really ugly olivey/grey shirt with the PSB block logo in multi color on the back and tour dates on the back. Now you're getting somewh....wait, those are the European dates. Nevermind.
Then there were a couple girl shirts - including a "West End girls one", was this a PSB clearance house? - along with an overpriced hoodie, the obligatory tour book, and a coffee mug. Oh, and a poster - but not the cool hand drawn poster from that contest they had on the website which I totally wanted, just the album cover that sad "On Tour 2009/2010" on it. Bummer.