Ah, the ’80s; for better or worse, the decade that wouldn’t die. In music, fashion, art and maybe even the ongoing political/culture wars forged in the age of Reagan, it all still (somehow) seems fresh and relevant. Perhaps it was the last time that anything truly new happened and subsequent generations are stuck in a cultural quicksand not of their making. Lucky things.
Pet Shop Boys, the London synth pop duo formed in 1981 by Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe, have skipped across the past three decades, attentive to the changes around them and assimilating, assimilating, assimilating.
Their Pandemonium tour landed at the Greek Theater last night and unfurled a dizzy-making list of references, sometimes within a single song. Visual homage and nods to Gilbert and George, Rei Kawakubo, Derek Jarman and Leigh Bowery bubbled up in the first segment of their show — all masters in that renaissance decade that may not ring a bell for many of the generation of social networking and vampires.
And that’s not even to mention the music genres on display like a connect-the-dots lesson in dance music history. After all, the styles are not what sustain Pet Shop Boys; it’s the music they write and perform, some of the most beguilingly melodic and lyrically astute songs of any age. Thing is, although they have a devoted international following, they’ve never been a huge act in the US. You wouldn’t have gathered that from observing the ecstatic crowd at last night’s sold out concert in the Los Feliz hills.
Maybe it’s because Los Angeles is where PSB first got airplay for their first single. To wit, Chris Lowe says their career was jump-started when KROQ took a chance and played West End Girls in the early 1980s. PSB also collaborated (tumultuously, it’s been reported) with LA songwriter Allee Willis on another of their early hits, What Have I Done to Deserve This?
Last night at the Greek, on a stage set comprised of towering white blocks that fell down, floated and regrouped as required, PSB tore through their catalogue, mashing together their own songs (Pandemonium/Can You Forgive Her; Kings Cross/Jealousy) and even slipping in a couple verses of Coldplay’s Viva La Vida mashed up with their own Domino Dancing.
Ostensively, they were promoting Yes, their 10th studio album, but they played as many songs from their first and dipped into every one since with one possible caveat: My ears didn’t detect a single line from Release (2002) but with the layers of songs and visuals flying off the flickering stage, I may have missed something in my euphoria.
After the show, I joked to a friend outside the Greek that I was glad I had held onto a couple black, boxy, big-shouldered Comme des Garcons jackets from my ’80s heyday. When I got home, I pulled them out of the back of my closet and tried them on again. Perfect.