LIVE REVIEW: Pet Shop Boys, New Order in Boston, MA (09.19.22)
The current Pet Shop Boys/ New Order tour has been aptly named The Unity Tour. Unity is defined as “the state of being joined or united as a whole.” On Monday night at Leader Bank Pavilion in Boston, nearly 5,000 people united for a kinetic three hours of hit songs. This show was a nostalgic celebration for the audience of mostly GenXers.
The co-headlining Unity Tour started in Toronto with Boston as its second date. This tour was originally scheduled for two years ago and was delayed due to Covid. After New Order performed, a severe thunderstorm forced concession stands to close as the venue issued a shelter in place order, but the show miraculously continued on time with Pet Shop Boys. It was a dream come true for this fan to finally see these amazing bands. It was a non-stop electronic dance party with all the whistles and bells in the form of videos and images and lights. Legendary DJ Paul Oakenfield played sets before each band, hyping the crowd and maintaining the rave atmosphere.
“Thank you for bearing with us,” New Order vocalist/guitarist Bernard Sumner told the audience. There wasn’t much chit-chat between songs. There was little time for it. The band needed to keep up their energetic pace. New Order opened with “Regret” and closed with Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” Above the stage, images of singer Ian Curtis and then the message ‘Joy Division Forever’ drew massive cheers and applause and ultimately, tears with this gorgeous rendition. Joy Division is still immensely popular, influential and revered by many. New Order formed out of Joy Division’s ashes in 1980 with Sumner, drummer Stephen Morris and celebrated guitarist Peter Hook, who left New Order nearly 20 years ago. Hook tours regularly playing Joy Division and New Order songs. This summer he played the Paradise in Boston.
Sumner was on fire during the entire supercharged 90 minute set. The 66-year-old might be losing some vocal strength and breath power, as he sang a bit slower and split up vocals on some songs (particularly noticeable on “The Perfect Kiss”) but still sounded great. They were loud, invigorating and overall impressive. I never stopped dancing the entire time. Most of the songs they played can be found on the fabulous 1987 compilation set Substance. I’m sure I have it with my DVDs somewhere.
New Order played the popular songs like “Bizarre Love Triangle,” the darker “Sub-culture,” “Blue Monday” and “Temptation.” They played a few lesser known songs like the guitar-driven “Academic” and “Plastic” from the more recent album, Music Complete, released in 2015. During “Academic,” they displayed images of skiers, surfers, mountains and oceans. Lights sprayed out into the audience. On “Plastic,” a song about being fake, words from the cheeky chorus popped up on screen: “it’s official/you’re fantastic/ you’re so special/ so iconic/ you’re the focus/ of attention/ but you don’t want it/Cos you’re so on it.” They played a couple of songs from the album, Power, Corruption and Lies. On the moody, hypnotic “Your Silent Face,” the screen said: “From the album: Power, Corruption + Lies” and then names of band members popped up on screen. This is an excellent and effective way to acknowledge everyone. Besides Sumner and Morris, New Order includes bass player Tom Chapman, keyboardist Gillian Gilbert and guitarist Philip Cunningham (of the Britpop band Marion).
Dramatic music played as Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe, wearing white lab coats and horned bestial masks, were lowered onto the stage in elevator-like shafts. Each had a street light illuminating them. Pet Shop Boys opened with an exhilarating “Suburbia” and closed the evening with the softer, introspective “Being Boring” from the 1990 album Behaviour. Their bubbly 90 minute set featured colorful, dazzling patterns and images on screen, outfit and set changes plus backing percussionists. “Tonight we’re going on a journey through music and memory,” Tennant explained.
At one point during the Pet Shop Boys set, I wondered if they had enough material to play for 90 minutes. I don’t know what I was thinking! As I recognized song after song, I realized how silly I’d been to even question it. Clearly should’ve done more research. Pet Shop Boys have been synth-pop darlings since they formed in London in 1981. The duo has sold more than 50 million records worldwide and was listed in the 1999 Guinness Book of World Records as the most successful duo in UK music history. The six-time Grammy nominees had five U.S. top ten singles in the 1980s. Although I mostly listened to them in college, of course Pet Shop Boys have plenty of material with 14 studio albums. They played 19 songs.
In a complete audio/visual experience, Pet Shop Boys played a bevy of these hits including “Rent,” “Opportunities,” “Domino Dancing,” “It’s a Sin” and “West End Girls.” Tennant has a distinct vocal styling, a bit romantic, a bit wistful. That’s particularly evident in slower songs like “Can You Forgive Her?,” a poignant and classic song about sexuality and identity with these lines: “She’s made you some kind of laughing stock/ Because you dance to disco and you don’t like rock/She made fun of you and even in bed/ Said she was gonna go and get herself a real man instead.” For the exciting and addictive “Domino Dancing,” wearing a tuxedo jacket and turban hat, Tennant led the audience in singing the chorus: “Watch them all fall down./(All Day. All Day.)/ Domino Dancing.” Tennant enthused: “Boston, that’s really good.” Another stand-out was the cheeky “Opportunities.” It’ll always be relevant with these lines: “I’ve got the brains/you’ve got the looks/ let’s make lots of money.” An explosive “It’s a Sin” was a full extravaganza with the stage all red, including a red globe spinning in the background. Tennant and Lowe were wearing silver jackets. After another set change, Tennant sported a black trench to perform a phenomenal “West End Girls” with black and white imagery as a backdrop. He then introduced the backing band, Lowe and even himself: “From Newcastle, Neil Tennant.” I love this humbleness.
I was so blown away by this thrilling musical evening. I was elated and on a high for days after the show and needed time to recover and absorb this thoroughly magical evening. If you get a chance to see it, don’t hesitate. It’s absolutely worth it.