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Pet Shop Boys At Beacon Theater, Tuesday, September 17th, 2013, Reviewed

Sing if being gay is a matter of near total irrelevance to you

There has never been a pop group close to Pet Shop Boys, they were superior to Duran Duran, Human League and Orchestral Maneuvers In The Dark combined and their list of hit songs over the past 30 odd years is arms length and growing on both sides of the Atlantic. But on stage? What can you do with a synth duo on stage? They are like Penn and Teller without the magic.

At the  Beacon Theater on Tuesday night the band were all distancing effectives and cool smartness. With lasers aplenty  on top of stagecraft hijinx and two male dances dressed like various forms of satyrs, all the skills in the world couldn’t save  Bhris Lowe’s  back up tapes,  synths and programing from sounding, well, programmed, and if ever a voice could use Dusty Springfield somewhere or the other that voice is Neil Tennant.

So I didn’t go into the Pet Shop Boys gig expecting much and using a DJ to open,  36 year old Jacques Le Cont, suggested they weren’t too up for solid competition. Playing all House for 30 minutes, Le Cont failed to make a dent in the collective consciousness of the middle aged Beacon audience of gays and 80s nostalgias’. Still, a final brilliant “Mr. Brightside” proved the popular mixer had real skills even if they weren’t exploited on stage.

Pet Shop Boys are like Morrisey without the persecution complex. Certainly Morrissey is about the only artist who can be compared to the deeply conflicted duo, singer Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe. Both the most cynical men imaginable, they handled gay love much less than gay desire and disaster with an arched eyebrow. At Beacon Theater, gay was the neither text nor texture, both places PSB have placed it in the past anymore than heterosexuality is in the text of a Prince concert.  In 2013, with a male duo dancing pas de deux around  and about, as stand ins, for  Neil and Chris, it is more like the mileu where the action in the songs occur. It is a gay subculture of money and love, for the distance bearing ironists.

Though it is hard to remember today, in 1981 the World Health Organization classified homosexuality as a disease (302.0) and despite the “I’m bi-sexual” claims of Bowie and Elton and company, glam was considered a glam joke and in the early 1980s, Pet Shop Boys explicitness was considered nothing of the sort. AIDS and Act Up had yet to turn the gay world inside out.

 Thirty years later, the duo perform their first few  songs behind a screen and the visuals of the band projected out are so colorful that when the screen comes down during “Opportunities” it doesn’t matter that much. It isn’t that much more exciting than the dancers projected on giant screens. Neil, in a weird outfit, all edges and platinum and Chris stuck behind his synth (more or less) all night) can’t really project the great song anywhere.

It isn’t bad at all –it is OK and the set is on a very even keel despite the audience going crazy for “West End Girls” and “It’s A Sin”. The best song at Beacon Theater Tuesday night was off their new album, Electric:  “Thursday” is a new pledge to start the weekend early and with no “creeping on Sunday”. It is a good slice of disco on the album and on stage it feigns at feigning an emotion. Visually, a set piece which seems to borrow off Danny Kaye’s “Triplets” and very amusingly during “Love, Etc”, with film projected on the twosome, whose head is the only thing that appears.

They final encored with “Go West” and if nothing else, yet again, the place where these romances were occurring from the “Opportunities” to the “Rent” and beyond is a world where homosexuality is the milieu. But this is not a romantic homosexuality, there is a dissonance and coldness, whether in robot costumes or suits, that makes it gay in a martin Amis novel: romance when it comes across, is hidden in a request hidden in a song.

Pet Shop Boys are truly one of a kind but to maintain it, to be gay without being camp and to be able to present these songs live in any format when it lends itself to dancefloor and earphones, is more than rare. But Neil has problems with feelings, he is like the anti-Morrissey on stage, danced as clown he doesn’t crack a smile, and barely speaks, Chris doesn’t speak at all. And so the set comes of as dispassionate but on point. Whatever, right? It is still the greatest synth duo of all time.

Grade: B

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