It’s less than four weeks until Iceland Airwaves and Holly and I are preparing in our own way, trying to get into “festival shape” by attending some local shows. Last week it was Ólafur Arnalds, and last night it was the electronic pop kings of the 1980s, the Pet Shop Boys, who were making a rare Seattle appearance.
I’m definitely a “greatest hits” kind of Pet Shop Boys fan, as is evidenced by the one CD I have burned to my iPod, Pet Shop Boys Discography – The Complete Singles Collection. But even if you’re a casual fan like me, you can probably name at least two of their hits (“West End Girls” and “Opportunities (let’s make lots of money”), and chances are you’d recognize at least a few more, so I had no problem going to see them live since I figured they’d put on quite a stage show. And they certainly did in the cozy confines of the Paramount Theater.
Scheduled to start at 8PM, they were 45 minutes late kicking off their set. You expect 20-30 minutes, but by quarter to the natives were starting to get restless. Fortunately the crowd was a bit on the older and more subdued side since, after all, the band’s heyday was about 25-30 years ago. The set opened with a video screen that covered the entire stage and showed nighttime driving and subway footage that continuously took you down roads and into tunnels as the electronic music bumped and the anticipation built until the two members of the band became visible behind the somewhat transparent screen. They did the opening number that way before the screen dropped to the floor and their full stage set got underway.
Pet Shop Boys dropped a new album this year called Electric which I haven’t heard… so I have no idea which of the songs I didn’t recognize were from the new record. By about the fourth track, however, we got onto familiar ground with “Opportunities (let’s make lots of money)” and from there it was a mix of older hits and some newer material. They covered pretty much all the classics I know, including “West End Girls,” “Suburbia,” “It’s a Sin,” and the cover of “Always on my Mind.” The sound was tight, polished, and clean – almost a little too clean given that every song seemed to be roughly it’s normal album length with no extended mixes or anything else to make you think that band wasn’t more or less playing off a recorded track, which they probably were. Neil Tennant sounded great, though, and the video screen, costume changes, and quick pace kept the show moving along at a brisk clip. Much of the show also featured two costumed dancers… whose purpose I was never able to quite grasp since they didn’t seem all that great really, though to be fair they were very athletic because they went full speed for about an hour straight. They did have some interesting headgear, though, I’ll give ’em that.
The set ran about an hour and a quarter, followed by a roughly 15 minute encore, so with no opening band we were out of there at a decent hour even with the late start. And you know, on a work night I don’t have a problem with that. All in all I thought the stage show was good and the pace kept me on my toes and certainly kept me from ever feeling any kind of lull for more than a minute or two. I guess the biggest downsides to me were that the band didn’t interact or engage with the crowd at all other than a few shouts of “Seattle!” and “Let’s hear you Seattle!”, that kind of stuff, plus it would have been cool to hear some extended versions of at least a couple of songs, or even some kind of medley. That being said, I felt like I got my money worth, and judging by the reactions of those around us I’d say they did as well.