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Pet Shop Boys, New Order, Paul Oakenfold “Unity Tour” at Madison Square Garden, Wednesday, September 28th, 2022 Reviewed

“You’re gonna love this song… maybe, maybe you won’t”? Eh? Of all the differences between New Order and Joy Division the biggest one in a live setting is that Bernard Sumner’s MC position doesn’t work. Back with Joy Division the guitarist could drift into the background and allow the emotionally battered and epileptic apocalyptic Ian Curtis to take over. Curtis was a godhead post-Punk who along with Mark E. Smith defined after punk as artistic command. In 40 plus years Bernard has still failed to step up as leader in any sense except commercially. Maybe that is the most important thing you can do for a pop band but it isn’t on stage and it wasn’t last night. It is a long way from “who remembers Rudolph Hess?” to “thank you so much for coming out for us…”

If opening and between acts the hugely popular DJ Paul Oakenfold is all but invisible and therefore not a contender as he spun Talking Heads, Culture Club and deep house, that would leaves Neil Tennant who has always been a bit iffy as leader and spokesperson for Pet Shop Boys. In the precisely timed four hours of 80s sounds taking us from 7pm – 11pm, we managed to see not one great frontperson. Despite all the hits Pet Shop Boy (22 top ten singles) and New Order failed to ignite because they couldn’t sell the songs.

The audience were mostly couples in their sixties, the woman sitting next to me kept on hitting in the face as she danced and apologizing and giggling that she was 24 years old again she did it again; typical of the audience on a nostalgia trip. The 1980s were the worst decade for the rock era popular music (though the 2020s may end up being a stinker) and the proof is in synth bands, the music not doctored with enough so it has that almost robotic sound and the sound is the same. It has aged in ways that pure disco, with its constant waves into hip hop, hasn’t.

At 7pm Paul spun for half an hour but he was tethered to the 80s and it wasn’t prime Oakenfold. New Order arrived at 730pm and Bernard, who is 66, looks exactly your grandfather if your Granddad came from Salford; he can’t dance and he can’t much move, and the rest of the band, Steve Morris on drums seriously augmented by beats and Gillian Gilbert on keyboards, are invisible. Original bassist Peter Hook was slung out of New Order and now performs entire Joy Division and New Order albums at much smaller venues and was replaced by Tom Chapman, and Macclesfield lad Phil Cunningham is on lead guitar. The material was great when they reached back tp Joy Division with “Ceremony” (no, cmon of course it was JD), “Transmission” and “Love Will Tear Us Apart” -a pleasure to hear even if not whatever it once was From New Order the powerful “Age Of Consent” with the hook you really wanna hear, no not “the birds and the bees” but “I’ve lost you” and the overwhelmingly great “Temptation”. But despite the light show and the flashing pictures on the LCD it was just mediocre nostalgia.

Pet Shop Boys have a major back catalog and they mine it well if not that well (no “Go West”? Unacceptable.), with a barrage of hits at the beginning with “Suburbia,” “Can You Forgive Her?,””Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money”), Where the Streets Have No Name (I Can’t Take My Eyes Off You)” and “Rent” with the line of the 80s, “look at my hopes, look at my dreams the currency we’ve spent, I love you, you pay my rent”. If this doesn’t bowl you over then the set certainly won’t and doesn’t. Neil is a pop maestro of the 80s who went from editing the synthpop bible “Smash HIts” to “West End Girls”. But on stage the band were all distancing effectives and cool smartness. With lasers aplenty on top of stagecraft hijinx and a secret door stage that expands seven songs in, but all the skills in the world couldn’t save Chris 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.

This has always been a problem for Neil and Chris, that and the level of both gay politics (in an age where it wasn’t merely a sin but a crime on the UK) and cultural me generation anthems to irony and so much so that when Neil and Chris want to get romantic they tend to perform covers like “Always On My Mind”. The latter was a huge hit remix into disco synth pop though it didn’t really fit the song and it doesn’t today. There is something a little meh about Pet Shop Boys on stage, it covers the Garden but if it so great why is the earth not moving the way it did for Pearl Jam earlier in September? It felt old.

Grade: C

12 Comments

  1. Paul on September 29, 2022 at 4:00 pm

    this review is a shame.the concert was fabulous and great.the best concert in 2022 so far.

    Pet Shop Boys was amazing.

    Mr.Lababedi should learn to do his Job.

    • Andy on September 29, 2022 at 6:06 pm

      Bad review! Super concert
      Pet shop boys were amazing live and the crowd was going crazy. Amazing energy.

      I rate it A+.

    • Drew on September 30, 2022 at 5:12 pm

      As another commenter noted this reviewer dislikes 80’s music. Why send his to review this show? He gave the show a C. I’ll give it an F. Maybe you can find an editor to fix the typos next time.

    • SGT Sean. Combs. USAA (ret) on February 12, 2023 at 5:39 pm

      Paul, i agree with you, mostly. yes, the reviewer sucked at his (?) job, no doubt, however, the concert did have some issues that soured the hole experience, let me explain. you might wish to sit down? lets first begin with the writing of the article itself.
      1) did he even proof read his own review? Was there ANY QAQC? was he given free reign to just post whatever? WHAT A LAZY MESS!
      2) How old is this guy? can he even relate? the article reads as if composed through the hazy fog an unreachable, unfeeling gap that hides between generations (generation gap).
      the magic i felt being a child of the eighties, in the eighties, could only view me going to a concert as an unobtainable luxury, a fantasy, something enjoyed by people that are not me. So how lucky is it that now, at 55, I get to see New Order (and PSB) live! in an era when most of my favorite groups from that time have split up, or are dead, New Order decides to fricken go on tour! awesome!
      3) How old is this guy? does he not understand how aging in the industry works? its brutal!
      NOW LETS TALK ABOUT THE PERFORMANCE: climate pledge arena, Seattle Washington.
      1) it was ok, I really enjoyed the performance, but not what id hoped for.
      i wouldn’t say the performers where to blame, not even a little. In my limited experience concert going, i’ve learned that it will be different when heard live than the recording im used to. thats just how it is. That having been said…
      2) WHAT HAPPENED TO THE SOUND? At the start of each bands set they sounded GREAT! Until the middle, maybe four or more songs in, subtly becoming louder and louder until the music disintegrated into a bass filled wall of viberous noise, distorting each song to the point of unrecognizability .
      If you’re familiar with the sound of a blown speaker, at full volume, then you can relate with how it felt to me. in this instance, based on the above, i can only speculate that the sound engineers are yo be held responsible. i have other complaints, but This is the most important thing im concerned with and im done with spending this much time on a reply that will either never be read, or the reviewer will delete it in a childish rage. so, thanks anyways, hope someone enjoyed my little tirad.

  2. Peter Elliott on September 30, 2022 at 3:07 am

    The so called reviewer obviously doesn’t like electronic music so why sent him to report and do such a selfish review, I was there and both bands were magnificent the Pet Shop Boys stealing the show,the reviewer needs to be educated Chris and the band do play live and of course they can’t do everything live,poor reporting and vert lazy

  3. Vicki on September 30, 2022 at 9:57 pm

    I’m pretty shocked reading this review..They sound extremely immature.. and there for, very subjective … worst music review I have ever read .. This reviewer is so ‘out of touch.. ‘ .. I bet he just sat there feeling above it all… while I also bet , he were the only one sitting ! I don’t often write such direct comments ..but this reviewer is also incredibly rude for describing an ecstatic concert attendee as you did and making fun of her because she is ‘old’ .. unbelievable ..

  4. Vicki on September 30, 2022 at 10:25 pm

    now..THIS link I attached , is a true review of this concert .. The reviewer here needs to watch this reviewer.. and see what he missed (everything basically) about this extra ordinary concert .. and everyone one else who REALLY want a good review of the concert .
    https://youtu.be/u91g8lV9-W0

  5. Sean S. on October 2, 2022 at 2:55 pm

    Iman Lababedi, I bet you are super fun at parties. Yes, complete sarcasm on my part. Perhaps you should start writing obituaries instead, or maybe you need to go back to your shrink for a higher dose of Xanax.

  6. HBrown on October 6, 2022 at 2:56 pm

    I think Iman is making too big an effort to prove he isn’t old rather than proving age doesn’t matter here. PSB and NO stage presence is simply spectacular from start to finish.

    The weak name dropping (e.g. Salford) did nothing to boost his equally weak report.

    The typos were an added disappointment. Iman should have worn his reading glasses.

  7. Anne on October 6, 2022 at 4:10 pm

    Agree with everyone slamming this bad review. And maybe hire a proofreader before you post.

  8. James C on October 6, 2022 at 10:46 pm

    Who is this douche anyway?

  9. theediscerning on October 7, 2022 at 3:41 pm

    Clicked here while trying to see what Oakie was playing on the decks, and kind of found out, but boy what an amateurish write-up. With grammar courtesy of google translate, and an author utterly, utterly ignorant of the music he’s supposed to be reporting on, this is one of the shoddiest things I’ve ever seen online. He clearly understands nothing of how this music is produced, performed or goes down with its fans. I now expect a ballerina to be writing about Whitechapel, and a Guettahead to sit through Akhnaten.

    And in trying to review the “elderly” audience, it just sounds like the writer was gutted he didn’t manage to pull…

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