Pet Shop Boys and New Order delight fans with the long-awaited Hollywood Bowl Show – Orange County Register

Pet Shop Boys and New Order finally – finally! — arrived at the Hollywood Bowl on Friday for the first of two shows, and, friends, it was worth the wait.

The two legendary electronic rock acts have a lot in common. Hailing from England in the mid-’80s, New Order and Pet Shop Boys shared a penchant for wistful lyrics on top of danceable electro-rock grooves and pop vibes.

So yes, the announcement of their Unity Tour sent fans jumping for joy when it arrived in late February 2020. And despite being postponed twice, there’s still a bit of the crackle and pop of an event concert as the first night of Pet Shop Boys and New Order at the Bowl kicked off in Los Angeles on Friday.

The bands switched timeslots, and on Friday that meant Pet Shop Boys, the duo of singer-songwriter Neil Tennant and synthesizer and keyboardist Chris Lowe, played first, opening their set with the melancholy tune of “Suburbia.”

Pet Shop Boys have always paid attention to complementary factors such as the fashion and design of their performances and the current tour makes it clear that that hasn’t changed. Both Tennant and Lowe arrived in white lab coat-like jackets and strange geometric face masks that looked something like two-sided tuning forks.

Their initial set design was minimalist—a microphone stand for Tennant, a keyboard and computer for Lowe, beneath two bright white streetlights. The street scenery, supplemented at times by video images of trains passing by at night, lent a certain transience to early highlights such as “Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)” and “Where the Streets Have No Name / I Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”. ‘, the duo’s mashup of hits originally made by U2 and Frankie Valli.

Pet Shop Boys remain an oddly charismatic duo. Oddly enough, because if Chris Lowe changed his Buster Keaton-esque expression once on Friday, I didn’t see it. Charismatic in that Tennant looks more like a British banker than ever, but his introspective lyrics and pleading vocals remain compelling.

The production expanded mid-set as Lowe and Tennant left the stage to change their wardrobes – Tennant returned in a black tuxedo with wide white lapels and a soft white fez hat – as the video screens rolled up to turn to reveal the rest of the band

Here, with a broader sonic palette, highlights included songs like “Left To My Own Devices,” “Love Comes Quickly,” and the duo’s popular cover of “You Were Always On My Mind.” a standard at the time, although perhaps best known for the Willie Nelson or Elvis Presley versions.

The core set ended with dance bangers like It’s Alright, a cover Tennant dedicated “to all the old ravers out there, and I think there’s quite a lot of you,” and finally It’s a Sin, one of them most popular number and one like many before that made the bowl crowd dance.

The encore brought Lowe and Tennant back to streetlight minimalism for “West End Girls” — “The song that first brought us to Los Angeles in 1986,” said Tennant, noting that it was Richard Blade on KROQ who came up with the tune and the duo introduced to the region. The gentle dance glide of “Being Boring” then closed the Pet Shop Boys’ first ever show at the Bowl.

Star DJ Paul Oakenfold played the blue and gold colors of the Ukrainian flag on the screens and spotlights during his audience-friendly sets in front of the Pet Shop Boys and during the break between their set and New Order. (Pet Shop Boys also added a bit of Ukrainian solidarity to their set, changing the lyrics to “West End Girls” to sing “from Mariupol to Kyiv Station” at one point.)

New Order then took the stage for a more traditional rock performance. Fashion choices saw singer and guitarist Bernard Sumner in a t-shirt and jeans, drummer Stephen Morris in a NASA t-shirt, and synthesizer and keyboardist Gillian Gilbert in a sheer dress that looked more like a schoolteacher than a rock star.

But their set delivered almost as much thrill as the Pet Shop Boys, with downbeat songs early in the show like “Regret” and “Age Of Consent” and “Ceremony” slowly forging a bond with fans that once paid off Energy of the show’s music began to take off.

Sumner’s vocals might have been a bit shaky at first, but once it warmed up — around the time the band played “Ceremony” and the ever-lovely “Your Silent Face” — things calmed down beautifully.

In the second half of core set, fans finally got the level of excitement they had for most Pet Shop Boys. “Bizarre Love Triangle” is always received enthusiastically and is one of New Order’s most beautiful songs for good reason.

“True Faith,” “Blue Monday,” and “Temptation,” the final three songs before the encore, only build upon that joyous, cathartic sense of release that conveys the best of New Order. Fans sang along loudly to these three, and many danced in the aisles as Sumner soloed the guitar through the end of “Temptation.”

The band would typically play a pair of Joy Division songs for their encore – Sumner and Morris were part of this band with bassist Peter Hook and vocalist Ian Curtis, and after Curtis’ death the surviving three formed New Order with Gilbert.

At Friday’s bowl, however, Sumner said they decided to do something different and cover “California Dreamin'” by Mamas & the Papas. “We’ve never played it before – please bear with us,” he said, adding that it seemed a good song to cover given the venue they were playing at.

He needn’t have worried — the up-tempo, rocking version of New Order was great — leading to the show’s traditional finale, the Joy Division classic “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” a final bit of hopeful melancholy to end this long expected night to end. Pet Shop Boys and New Order delight fans with the long-awaited Hollywood Bowl Show – Orange County Register

Adam Bradshaw

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