Pet Shop Boys soar, sputter to start tour

British pop duo Pet Shop Boys once again chose Miami Beach as the starting point for a world tour just as they did three years ago.

On Tuesday night at the Jackie Gleason Theater, the Pet Shop Boys also aimed to reinvent themselves.

”No wigs, costumes, makeup, sets,” keyboardist Chris Lowe told The Herald last week in discussing plans for The Release Tour. “We’re presenting ourselves as musicians for the first time. We’re clearing the stage and performing songs.”

It was an intriguing premise. Aside from the new CD, Release, the Pet Shop Boys have always favored electronic instrumentation and theatrical shows.

Ironically, for a duo hoping to present ”themselves,” the pair have never seemed more hidden.

The murky, fog-enshrouded stage and backlighting obscured their features so that for the majority of the 90-minute concert the Pet Shop Boys and the musicians played in shadow.

At times, this made singer Neil Tennant seem enigmatic. During the somber ballad, Love Is a Catastrophe, a sheer screen fell and the back of the stage looked like a gorgeous starry sky.

But mostly, the Cure-like gloom left an impersonal feeling even as Tennant displayed a welcome sense of humor.

”For the next song you have to imagine I’m a 17-year-old rap fan — that shouldn’t be too difficult,” the 47-year-old singer said in introducing The Night I Fell in Love, a disarmingly sweet song in which he imagines having a post-concert fling with an unnamed Eminem.

In a show that felt like a roller coaster with, unfortunately, as many Death Valley lows as Mount Everest peaks, the Pet Shop Boys created as pulsating an electronic dance beat as they ever have.

It’s a Sin, the second encore, was thunderous, with great walls of synthesizers, two guitarists and a percussionist driving the catchy tune home. Their cover of Always on My Mind was as overproduced — and irresistible — as ever. Conversely, Go West, with canned backing vocals, never sounded more artificial and mechanical.

Still, some of these old songs remain great fun as was the new dance-rocker Sexy Northerner.

But some attempts at refashioning favorites, like the mid-tempo You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You’re Drunk, fell flat, doomed by busy arrangements.

However, the night’s biggest catastrophe was the god-awful sound at the Gleason that may, or may not, have been the Boys’ fault.

Overly loud, booming, distorted — pick whatever adjective you like — it sounded as if no one was paying attention during sound check, if indeed they even bothered with one, because it’s hard to imagine songwriters as brilliant as these two accepting such conditions to showcase their new arrangements.

Taken from: Miami Herald
Interviewer: HOWARD COHEN