Show Review: Pet Shop Boys at The Warfield, 9/23/09

by Mielle Sullivan on September 24, 2009

What a couple of squares ...

What a couple of squares ...

Pet Shop Boys concerts exist in their own universe. A universe of abstract expressionism, interpretative dance, avant-garde fashion, modular sets and (for this tour anyway) Adidas sports wear. They are such elaborate productions that the Pet Shop Boys themselves are almost accessories in their own shows. But that’s how it should be. From the very beginning they knew their minimalistic style couldn’t carry an entire concert. So they hired world class dancers and set designers to produce dazzling abstract synthpoperas.

This tour features a set composed entirely of interchangeable white boxes that transform (with the help of a helmeted, lab-coat-wearing crew) into stages, platforms and projection screens. Neil and Chris always wear black or white (except when Chris is dressed as a human mirror ball) while the dancers swirl around in red, yellow, blue and green solids.

Throughout the show there is an interesting symbolic tension between the anonymous and the very personal. The first five songs clip along, one bleeding into one another. “Pandemonium” is mashed up with “Can you forgive her?” “Building a wall” is mashed up with “What have I done to deserve this?” All the while dancers, with cubes for heads and kneecaps, pose and bounce around Neil, who is wearing a hat and sunglasses. So abstracted are the dancers, you can hardly tell their sex and Neil looks…..disguised. It’s easy to forget he has aged at all in the last twenty five years.

It isn’t until “Do I have to?” that Neil emerges bald and un-spectacled for the slower, more personal songs. The video game inspired projected animations give way to grainy vintage footage of Blackpool Pleasure Beach–an area not far from Neil’s home town. During “King’s Cross” a black and white video of Chris walking alone around the King’s Cross station plays. The boys seem intimately exposed and vulnerable in a harsh, fast paced world.

“Suburbia” breaks down the remaining walls of anonymity and turns the rest of the show into a dance party. Two dancers dressed in suits with red cubes for heads mime sorting boxes until they just can’t take it anymore and strip down to their Adidas, remove the red cubes (revealing themselves to be identical blond twins) and get down. Everything thereafter is a disco inferno of one type or another.

Other highlights include:

  • “Go West” in all it’s choral glory. San Francisco’s unofficial anthem. Different unmasked dancers play cheerleaders to the crowd, and the projected animation is reminiscent of Soviet propaganda. Rousing. Awesome.
  • During “Jealousy,” two dancers performed the best interpretive dance of a fighting couple the world has ever seen.
  • Watching the audience during “It’s a sin.” San Francisco knows how to get down to its unholiness.

Yes, they played “West End girls” though the absence of Helena Springs was felt. No they didn’t play at least a dozen other songs everyone wanted to hear. Their catalog is too large to leave everyone satisfied at the end of one show; I certainly wasn’t.

An all around awesome performance, especially in San Francisco.

Pet Shop Boys 9/23/09 Set List:

Did you see me coming?
Pandemonium– Can you forgive her?
Love etc.
Wall-What have I done to deserve this?
Go West
Two divided by zero
Why don’t we live together?
Always on my mind
Left to my own devices
Do I have to?
King’s Cross
Used to Be
All over the world
Se a vida e’
Viva la Vida (Coldplay Cover)
It’s a sin
Being boring
West End girls

The photos on this post are courtesy Dina Robinson, and come from the 9/22/09 show, which was virtually identical to the 9/23/09 show. To see over 100 photos from this show, and thousands from other shows, you can visit Dina’s Flickr page.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Joel September 24, 2009 at 10:18 am

Wish I’d been there!


Gordon Elgart September 24, 2009 at 10:39 am

I saw this show twice, and although I’m disappointed they left out Opportunities, I left with a much greater appreciation for Go West, so I think it might even out. I do wonder, however, how much of this show’s music was performed live. I’m guessing 20% or so? Anyone else have an opinion on this?


Dina September 24, 2009 at 2:43 pm

Great review, as always! and thanks for linking my photos!

Two things: How did I miss any part of WHIDTDT? I definitely didi not detect that mashup…that is probably my favorite song by them!

Also, Viva la Vida was a mashup with Domino Dancing (ole, ole! Watch them all fall down!)

My friends are going to the LA show tonite, I wish I could be there (I’m actually going to LA tomorrow!)!!!


Mielle Sullivan September 24, 2009 at 11:25 pm

In all honesty, I am not 100% sure “Building a Wall” was mashed up with “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” It was a brief mash up during a big set change and I could be wrong. BAW was mashed up with an older song, but I could be wrong as to which one it was. Would love to hear what you think it was, Dina.

Gordon, was it just me or were the vocals not mixed very well? Meaning, I thought they were often over powered. That kind of thing tends to make me think a show was not lipsynced. What made you think most of it was? I just don’t really know what to look for.


Gordon Elgart September 25, 2009 at 10:27 am

We took the setlist off the laptop of the sound guy. I’m sure it was right–the whole show seemed to be running off of laptops all around.

I thought the vocals sounded too clean to be live, but going back and watching some old Pet Shop Boys videos make me realize that his voice has a much different character than it used to have. I doubt they would re-record all the material just for a tour.


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