Pet Shop Boys // Photo Credit: Yousef Hatlani
By Arya Imig
On a clear autumn’s eve, Pet Shop Boys beamed in from the future and turned a hall where the Oregon Symphony plays into one giant disco club. While it seems unbelievable that this was the group’s first ever appearance in Portland, the setting couldn’t have been more appropriate. When the historic building that houses the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall first opened in 1928 it housed vaudeville acts, and later films by Paramount. This is a fact Pet Shops Boys would no doubt appreciate. After all, the group’s aesthetic draws on the style and class of the classic film era of the 40s and 50s, and even the cabaret stylings of the vaudeville era, while also engaging the future. Take, for example, the group’s seamless segue from their all time classic “West End Girls”, to their cover of the even more classic West Side Story cut “Somewhere”. Yes, I really did just use the word classic three times in two sentences. That’s the kind of show this was though.
This was one of the most spectacular productions I’ve seen in as relatively intimate a space as the Schnitz provides. There were huge screens, hearkening back to the theater’s yesteryears (Eat your heart out, Warren Miller!), multiple costume changes, lasers, an incredible light show, with strobes a’plenty, fog, dancers, and a massive explosion of confetti. These displays accentuated a stellar performance as Pet Shop Boys presented an immensely memorable and enjoyable evening of their trademark sound, one which in many ways synthesizes(pun intended) the detached cool of Kraftwerk and the propulsive rhythms of their British peers New Order.
Over a 90 minute set that spanned the group’s 32 year career Chris Lowe, who turned 54 on the day of the show, and Neil Tenant, who turns 60 next year, had an awestruck crowd standing on their feet dancing the entire time. Their throbbing electronic beats, managed by the ever stoic Lowe, thrust forward while singer Tenant’s croon oscillated between urgency and nonchalance as it glided over head. Tenant and Lowe are progenitors of a generation of artists who draw inspiration from the duo’s sound without quite matching the specific feel that the group evokes. Sounds we’re hearing today from James Murphy, Cut Copy, Empire of the Sun, et al, all owe a debt to Pet Shop Boys, which is enough to remind us they’ve been beaming in from the future since their formation in 1981. Often imitated but rarely duplicated, Pet Shop Boys understand and communicate the connections between our ever present past and ever oncoming future. In other words, they’re simply timeless.