Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys makes his entrance at the Warner Theatre on Friday, Nov. 11, 2016. (Photo by Mickey McCarter)
The Pet Shop Boys have a terrific new album, and they toured it in style at the Warner Theatre on Friday.
Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe brought the songs from SUPER to DC as part of a talented five-piece band that relied heavily on fine musicianship over stage trappings. In previous tours, the Pet Shop Boys presented us with some dazzling stagecraft and dancers. But this time around, their focus was more toward singing some great songs and playing some great synths accompanied by some costume changes and an admittedly spectacular lightshow.
At the beginning of the show, Neil and Chris make a clever PSB-type entrance as they rotate into view on separate platforms, which then serve as screens and light reflectors for the first part of the show. The duo wear elaborate headpieces, and Chris’ covers his entire head in an otherworldly manner. Neil takes to the microphone for “West End Girls,” and the sold-out crowd at the Warner is deliriously happy from the first note.
The Pet Shop Boys then move through a very well-conceived mix of their new songs from SUPER as well as established legacy favorites. They present next the very accessible yet extremely worthwhile number “The Pop Kids” from the album, giving us a taste of cleverly wrought nostalgia in the fashion of “Being Boring.” To my personal delight, they followed this up with Disco’s “In the Night,” a song I enjoyed immensely from the first time I played it at home on a cassette that I eventually wore out as a boy.
Their very capable touring band comes through for them on quite a few occasions during the show, but I’m still most impressed by the violin on “Love Is a Bourgeois Construct,” which certainly set the tone for the song. The violinist also takes to synths, positioned between two drummers in the back of the stage, and the music throughout is superb.
Over the rest of the show, the Pet Shop Boys pay respect to the new album with selections “Burn,” “Twenty-something,” and “The Dictator Decides.” The latter was a particularly memorable performance as Neil makes a costume change into a military uniform while the rest of the band (including Chris) where silver helmets that cover their eyes, giving them a drone-like presence. Its cutting lyrics are delivered without any hint of irony as a lament from an absolute ruler stuck in his position and unable to stray from an agenda set long ago.
Our theatre comes quite alive at some of the Pet Shop Boys classics, however, of which there are many in this show. They close the main set with a thrilling trio of “It’s a Sin,” “Left to My Own Devices,” and “Go West.” Neil’s voice is pitch perfect and the audience eats up every word he delivers in his arch, intellectually potent singing patterns. Each song is a masterstroke, and each full of excited witticisms and alluring disco beats. This is very literate disco, at its finest, and we all feel better for the spark.
Not a band to leave an audience wanting, the Pet Shop Boys wrap with an encore that includes “Domino Dancing” and “Always on My Mind.” The performance of “Domino Dancing” was particularly uplifting as the audience en masse leapt straight into a singalong of its chorus that appeared to leave Neil earnestly impressed with the fervor and love for the song in the room. His pleasure at hearing the entire room take up the song so emphatically was plain, and he complimented Washington on its fine singing chops.
The fabulous Pet Shop Boys have only a few dates remaining on their US tour before they depart for a show in Mexico and a tour of Europe. Make every effort to catch them tonight in Saint Petersburg or tomorrow in Miami, Florida. It was a sincere joy to see the guys back in action so soon after visiting the United States only two years ago. The Pet Shop Boys have been in a wonderfully prolific mood in recent years, and their songwriting is as sharp and as fun as ever. You cannot help but be elated by a Pet Shop Boys show.
Here are some pictures of the Pet Shop Boys performing at the Warner Theatre on Friday, Nov. 11, 2016.