Last Night: Pet Shop Boys at the Warfield

Categories: Last Night
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Pet Shop Boys
September 22, 2009
The Warfield Theater

By Steven Gdula

Better than: listening to the remixes at home.

For a band that has invested a lot in presenting an image that says "We don't care," - remember Neil Tennant's yawn on the cover of Actually? - the Pet Shop Boys' show at The Warfield on Tuesday night proved that the duo of Tennant and Chris Lowe care a great deal about their relevance.

In fact, relevance was a major theme during the Boys' 90-minute set on the first of their two-night stint in San Francisco. The duo chose evenly and judiciously from their ten album catalog rather than obligingly plugging their latest CD, Yes, or plodding through a greatest hits dog-n-pony show.

But in the world according to Pet Shop Boys, everything and anything is fair game for a send-up. So when Tennant sang, "Give me one more chance to keep you satisfied," from "You Were Always On My Mind," it was difficult to tell if it was a plea to an audience that has more choices now than it did roughly twenty years ago, or if it was all part of a mocking ruse.

As an aging pop artist, and particularly as an aging gay man, Tennant knows he is increasingly faced with the issue of his relevance. It's a notion he started addressing ten years ago, around the time of Pet Shop Boys' Nightlife CD, when he spoke openly about the emphasis on youth, and on maintaining a youthful image, in the gay culture. "Everyone is trying to be hip, so subsequently no one is hip," he told an interviewer, and it sounded every bit the liberating statement. Collaborating with remixers-of-the-moment aside, Tennant and Lowe seem to have dispensed with trying to stay ahead of, or keep up with trends, gay or otherwise, and focus instead on their art.

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Fittingly then the Warfield show was a visual and sonic phantasmagoria. The white block set referenced imagery from British artists Gilbert & George, the choreography of Philippe Decoufle, Japanese author Kobo Abe, an Academy Awards' ceremony, break dancing, the 1931 Beaux Arts Ball, and of course the early days of MTV. Stage hands in white lab coats and white construction hats moved the blocks into and out of place, while singers and dancers, often with boxes over their heads, served as performers as well as set pieces.

Pet Shop Boys certainly give good show, but spectacle aside, Tennant's and Lowe's relevance was proven by an audience that sang along with the new material like "Did You See Me Coming" as enthusiastically as they did the closer "West End Girl."

Critic's Notebook

Personal Bias: Neil Tennant's statement mentioned above was given to yours truly in an interview for The Advocate.

Random Detail: Average age of a Pet Shop Boys fan, judging by crowd: 39.

By the way: As the Pet Shop Boys' crew was "Building A Wall" of white blocks at The Warfield, the Australian Pink Floyd show was happening across the bridge at The Fox in Oakland.

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