Pet Shop Boys – Pandemonium CD/DVD Review

Posted March 23, 2010 in

When Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe first toured in 1989, it was a decidedly unique event. The end result was a complete eschewal of the traditional rock concert format, instead incorporating a theatrical approach with stunning visuals, multiple costume changes and the songs themselves being presented as themed concepts complete with filmed backdrops. This eclectic approach has served them well, and with the exception of 2002’s deliberately stripped down (though still brilliant) Release Tour, the Pet Shop Boys have continually expanded on this formula, creating a show that is both visually incredible and undeniably memorable.

Pandemonium the DVD/CD was recorded at London’s 02 Arena on December 21, 2009—the last date of the Pet Shop Boys’ world tour. The DVD not only features the show in its entirety but also bonus live tracks not performed during the US leg that coincide with their then recently released Christmas EP. Someone has decided—and quite cleverly, I might add—to put two of these songs in the “extras” section rather than with the main show. While it certainly isn’t unusual for concert set lists to change, especially as the tour moves through different countries, by maintaining the basic set list that most of the world saw, the Pet Shop Boys kept the integrity of the original production intact. Those two bonus performances, both from the EP, are undeniably great and belong here, but the first, their cover of Madness’ “My Girl,” is simply lesser known and the other, “It Doesn’t Often Snow At Christmas” is obviously seasonal. Again, their inclusion on the DVD is quite welcome: “My Girl” is touchingly dedicated to their late friend Dainton and his wife, and the awesome “It Doesn’t Often Snow At Christmas” features the tour’s dancers/back-up singers dressed as Christmas trees and gleefully dancing around the stage, while Tennant and Lowe, dressed appropriately for the wintery backdrop projected behind them bring the evening’s festivities to their grand conclusion. 

The other extra song, their classic duet “What Have I Done To Deserve This?” with the late, great Dusty Springfield fits perfectly into the main concert. The very entertaining and informative audio commentary (featuring Tennant, Lowe and the show’s amazing creative director and set designer Es Devlin) advises that the distorted pixelations projected on the deceptively simplistic white cardboard boxes that make up most of the set is actually Springfield from the original 1987 video of the song. While her unmistakable voice sings alongside Tennant’s, it is actually when her face is finally discernible—with the images continuing to be distorted and filtered to match the show’s style and colored cube imagery—that is truly stunning. The addition of this song, added to the tour in November, really is an added bonus for those who attended the North American shows in August and September.

Speaking of which, while it was beyond extraordinary seeing Pandemonium live (and for my much more detailed look at the US leg of this tour, please see my earlier online review) viewing it on DVD on a HDTV simply blew me away. During the two San Francisco shows I attended, I pretty much stood within the small confines of the crowded areas around me, so my views—while incredible—were limited to those scopes. What I love about a memento such as this DVD is that I’m finally able to see the entire presentation as a whole: the amazing Devlin-designed staging and full set, all of those great film projections, the incredibly exhaustive-looking dancing and choreography, those ingenious costumes including those iconic New York City skyline ones the four dancer wear, and above all, the Pet Shop Boys wondrous performance.  Though it doesn’t specifically indicate it was filmed in HD, the picture here is crystal clear and the sound is quite excellent. 

And speaking of the sound—produced and mixed for the DVD by Dave Woolley, while the CD’s tracks were mixed by the tour’s über music producer, Stuart Price—it is a near perfect balance of old and new. With well over 25 year’s worth of material to choose from, the concert is a nice mix of Yes selections, and of course all of their biggest hits in one form or another: “West End Girls,” “It’s A Sin,” “Suburbia,” “Go West,” “Jealousy” and “Heart,” and a terrific sampling of many others. Album cuts are well chosen, like “Two Divided By Zero” and “Why Don’t We Live Together” (featuring the above-mentioned dancing and singing NYC skyline, not to mention Lowe in his famous glass disco ball coat joining in for a moment) from their debut, Please, plus the absolutely gorgeous b-side “Do I Have To?” featuring a dapper, tuxedoed Tennant singing as two of the dancers are beautifully choreographed around him. One of the best things on the DVD audio commentary is the refreshing way both Tennant and Lowe can laugh at themselves and each other (sometimes hysterically), especially when discussing their own dancing skills.

The accompanying CD features 17 highlights from the show, including the show-stopping blend of their tracks “Se A Vida É,” “Discoteca” and “Domino Dancing” mashed with Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida,” and arguably some of the concert’s best aural moments, expertly edited and mixed by Price.  Alongside the above mentioned extra live tracks, the DVD also features some great bonuses itself, including the music videos for the three Yes singles (“Love, etc.,” “Did You See Me Coming?”  and “All Over The World”) and finally, their infamous 2009 Brit Awards performance, featuring guest vocals from celebrity fans Brandon Flowers and Lady GaGa, which rounds the bonuses out. And I’ve said it before, but I wish all labels would release the music from their artists’ live DVDs, at least in some type of bonus format. It would seem like a no brainer, but not too many do it, which makes no sense, because it actually helps to further promote the release and more than satiates the fans’ appetites. Fortunately that is not the case here and as far as DVD packages go, there is plenty to get excited about for Pet Shop Boys fans.

Pandemonium the DVD/CD is released  in the US on Tuesday, March 23rd, on Astralwerks and the music (plus one live video) on iTunes/Amazon.