Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Concert Review: Pet Shop Boys Live in Manila

The Pet Shop Boys - Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe

The Venetian blind projection screen
The one night only Pet Shop Boys concert, held at the Smart Araneta Coliseum, was presented by Ovation Productions.  This concert was to promote this duo's triumphant comeback via their 12th, and newest, studio album “Electric” (which boasts the singles “Vocal” and “Axis”). 
Since its release last July 12, “Electric” reached No. 3 on the UK Albums Chart in its first week of release, their highest album position since the 1993 release of “Very.”  Aside from Manila, the “Electric World Tour,” which commenced in Mexico last March, also included stops at Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil, Colombia, Turkey, Europe, Israel, Indonesia, China and Thailand, the last three Asian countries for the first time. 
The sizable crowd that watched the concert
This was to be the phenomenal electronic synth-pop duo's first ever visit to Manila.  The Pet Shop Boys, 3-time Brit Award winner (including for Outstanding Contribution to Music in 2009) and 6-time Grammy Award nominee, have, since 1985, spawned 42 Top 30 singles and 22 Top 10 hits in the UK Singles Chart and have sold more than 50 million records worldwide.  In fact, they are listed, by The Guinness Book of Records, as the most successful duo in UK music history. 
 The sizable, middle age crowd queuing for entry into the coliseum also included a number of senior citizens and even some who weren’t even born in the 1980s, the decade when the Pet Shop Boys began to leave their mark on the music scene.   
The duo wearing bull-shaped headdresses

The colorful lighting
The concert opened with entry of the cerebral, articulate, loquacious and now bald and bulky Neil Tennant who, with his winsome, wistful and high-pitched voice, started off with Opportunities – Let’s Make Lots of Money,” with  the terse yet flippant and casual Chris Lowe (almost always seen in his trademark attire of hat and impenetrable sunglasses) handling the keyboards and computer board, all the while just standing still. 
This opening number was followed by the songs "Memory of the Future," "Fugitive," "Integral" and "I Wouldn't Normally Do This Kind of Thing," after which, the tempo was raised a number of notches with "Suburbia,"  the audience rising on their feet for the first (and not the last) time. The laser light show, featuring intermittent blasts of dazzling laser light effects (provided by ER Productions), commenced with the song "I'm Not Scared" and "It Doesn't Often Snow at Christmas."  The next was an anti-war track from the "Electric" album called "The Last to Die," a cover of Bruce Springsteen's 2008 song.
The dazzling laser lights
Next was the song "Somewhere," the Pet Shop Boy's version of a West Side Story song, followed by "Leaving," "Thursday" (a new "Electric" song featuring a lively rap interlude from British recording artist Example and a memorable and catchy "stay for the weekend" chorus), "Love, Etc.," "I Get Excited (You Get Excited Too)" and "Miracle." 

Again, the duo raise the notch higher with a bevy of dance anthems to end the show - Rent,” It’s a Sin,” "Domino Dancing," the Village People cover "Go West" and  Always on My Mind.” All these songs animated the crowd who responded with emotional fervor.   Of course, what is a concert without an encore.  After a clamor for more, the duo responded with  West End Girls,” their most heard of song to date, plus the latest "Electric" single "Vocal" to end the hour and a half concert.  However, I was slightly disappointed that they didn't play the other Pet Shop Boys hits such as "Heart," "Love Comes Quickly" and "What Have I Done to Deserve This?"

The duo wearing their straw jackets

Chris and his mirror ball hat
All throughout  the concert, the duo made a number of costume changes, donning unique, avant-garde, extravagant and neon-intensive costumes, creations of costume designer Jeffrey Bryant, that could be defined as futuristic, wacky, mad and vibrant. It included jackets made completely from straws.  
They also changed wigs, headdress (including a bull-shaped piece to simulate minotaurs) and hats (including a mirror ball hat that, when hit by a spotlight, illuminated the coliseum).  Even when the duo were not on stage during costume changes, their pre-programmed electronic music still throbbed, pulsed and hammered away.
The upright beds
The giant projection screen, behind the open stage, is mapped on to a variety of surfaces including strategically-placed gauzes, set items and a back wall built to look like an enormous Venetian blind (or V blinds as they came to be known), created by Total Solutions, which opens and closes as part of the show. 
The first gauze, which goes up for the first three tracks, almost acts as a TV screen for the duo to perform behind.  The giant projection surface also disappears, in the blink of an eye, to reveal a wall of lights and strobes and then returns, as if by magic.  There are also rolling set piece performance spaces including an upright bed, which the duo stands in, which later revolves to become dance booths.  Aside from the duo, joining them on stage are 2 dancers, in peculiar headgear, who throw contemporary dance shapes, prance about and even ride on pogo sticks.
A combination of strobe lights and lasers

The resulting vibrant and pop-influenced show had everything; colorful lighting, vast projection screens with artily crafted images, content, incredible choreography, blasts of glittery confetti all over the stage (from cannons in the pit), a smoke machine, the hits and new songs (all delivered with character and conviction by Neil), plus it was full of energy.  Altogether, the concert was such a great show, more an art and design or theater-based production (created with acclaimed opera and theatrical designer Es Devlin), an unusual combination of concert, West End musical and art installation, rather than a normal rock music show.  A dazzling feast for the eyes as well as ears.

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