I entered the Thomas Wolfe at 7:40 to a DJ spinning “banging tunes” to a blasé crowd sitting in their seats. I was miffed that in my haste to get downtown, find parking, get my wristband, that I forgot my earplugs. This was loud, but just less than cripplingly so. Hoots arose at a place where the DJ kept a funky break moving so they could “hear the drummer get wikkid.” That got the ones up front on their feet. The DJ [C Powers] looked like a kid I went to secondary school with. Not as he would look now, but as he looked then! The auditorium was only about 20% full and the splendor if PSB was due to unfurl in just 10 minutes. Color me “hard to believe.”
15 minutes later and the big beat was still pounding from the wheels of steel. 8:05 and this guy wasn’t going anywhere. I was in the right venue, was I? There was a big PSB scrim flogging “Electric” behind the DJ. I was in the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, so I’m not sure why this was happening.
At 8:15, I thought I’d better look at my schedule PDF that I’d made earlier and posted on my blog. Uh, duh… PSB begin their show at 9:00 PM and I was sitting here for a house DJ! I got up and out of my seat, figuring that PSB merchandise in the lobby might be a trifle more entertaining. I was right. The Monastic budget is tight, so no actual purchase was made, or even contemplated, but $20 for a t-shirt is very acceptable. As one can imagine, there were many good designs. PSB is about nothing if not good design.
C Powers – DJ
Well, that took five minutes. I re-entered the auditorium and resumed the same exact seat [aisle end] that I had left earlier. DJ C Powers was reminding me why I stopped buying PSB records with his reductive and repetitive house set boring me to tears. Just hooks and beats. No songs or emotions. Repeated endlessly. When he cued up some Italo piano riffs the crowd grew animated, the philistines! Memo to self: I must not make this scheduling mistake again!
Before I left our house, my wife teased me about live-blogging the event. I laughed… but here I was desperately typing away while four on the floor beats were pounding away. Of course, there’s no wi-fi here, so I was merely writing a story that I would post tomorrow. But in essence, yes, damnit, I’m live blogging C Powers, and I’m thanking Apple for having the courtesy to market a device that has all of the capabilities of the iPhone but doesn’t have a monthly bill! Writing is all that is saving me right now from lobotomizing myself to save what’s left of my mind in the face of this deadening onslaught. What’s sad is… I can imagine a lot worse in this fallen world! At least the DJ set resembles music. Much of the Moogfest roster is merely ugly noise. [yes, I’m old…]
Each Moogfest has it’s own [negative] character. The first one in 2010 was: too much hip-hop. 2011 was too much rock. 2012 was the first time I attended for a night. I can’t recall much about the character of the roster though the evening we attended was really enjoyable. Moogfest 2014? Too damn many DJs!!! I swear that the roster is about 65% DJs and I say, perhaps 30 years too late, “to hell with DJ culture!” The ludicrousness of DJs becoming ego-sodden rock stars is yet another dive downhill for our culture! DJs just leech off of creatives. There. Someone had to say it! Watching a guy play tiny parts of records as if he had something artistic to say is absurd.
At 8:45 an authority figure indicated to young C Powers that his allotted time was done. And with that it was over. The auditorium was now over half full, so in a 3000 seater like the Thomas Wolfe, not half bad. By 9:00 it was more like 75% capacity. I was ready for show time.
Pet Shop Boys – Synthpop
I was at the first PSB concert of their first North American tour in 1990. It set a standard that I couldn’t imagine being equalled in terms of elaborate splendor. The current show began with “Axis” playing with the video for the song being projected onto a huge scrim in front of the proscenium. The Moroderesque intro was certainly an appropriate way to kick off Moogfest, and the speeding visuals were just a taste of the evening to come. The show then moved onto higher gear with the next song being the primordial PSB track “One More Chance,” a cut that dated back to their stint on Bobby O’s record label before singing with EMI, but that chestnut has never sounded as massive and substantial as this evening! The song has moved beyond its cheap hi-NRG origins to become a thing of wonder here. Tennant and Lowe performed behind the scrim until it dropped to reveal the band and the full stage set.
As usual, Neil Tennant was the animated heart of PSB while Chris Lowe was its inscrutable mind. Lowe is famous for being largely immobile and he did not disappoint! With his show largely programmed and sequenced, his direct engagement was limited to certain lead lines that he played that sounded unmistakably live. The stage set was a cut metal motif and their stagehands would occasionally move the set pieces while garbed in fluorescent orange garb. The band were joined for much of the set by a pair of dancers who usually sported masks that obscured their faces the whole show. Their costuming served to de-emphasize their genders, though the bare torso on one right away pointed to one of each sex.
Neil has a clear, somewhat nasal tenor, that projects well live. His lyrics are clearly perceivable live, which is a huge plus, given the caliber of their songwriting. Sure, the arrangements can be driving or delicate, with the evening skewed a bit more towards pounding club beats this show, but the crux of their songcraft is definitely the strong lyrics that Tennant writes. One day, Neil could write a self-referential song entitled “Disco As A Means Of Personal Expression” and if that happened, I would expect the band to vanish in a singularity of some sort!
I rode the PSB bus hard from 1985-1994, and I recognized about half of the material from the albums still in the Record Cell. I was pleased to hear a little B-side material working its way into their setlist. The B-side of “Heart,” “I Get Excited [You get Excited Too]” was a real treat. In a perfect world, they could have pulled out “Bet She’s Not Your Girlfriend” and I would have swooned, but this was not, as they say, chopped liver. Only one or two of the later songs performed seemed a trifle insubstantial. I suspect that much of the material from the well-regarded “Electric” album accounted for more of the dazzling heights of the new stuff.
Though the staging and presentation was somewhat less elaborate than the show I’d seen in 1990, one couldn’t say that it was pared down by much. The scope, yes, but the caliber of the ideas was as dazzling as ever, with a highlight being when the metal boxes that the dancers were grooving in were turned around onstage, Neil and Chris were mounted on the back with sheets covering their immobile bodies, as if on view in bed from above. Then, highly animated bodies of dancers filmed on beds assuming various dance postures were projected on the sheets with PSB’s real heads above the sheet on a pillow. The effect strongly recalled the infamous Bowie ‘puppet body’ performance of “Boy’s Keep Swinging” on Saturday Night Live in 1979, given a modern nudge. Neil sang, of course, and Chris was immobile. Good work, Chris! Throughout it all, the lighting was spectacular, with a wide variety of colors and moods. Of particular delight were the green lasers. Yes, they gave us pleassssssssure.
My 24 years away from Pet Shop Boys has been many times longer than my original tenure of fandom, but this show confirmed that the notion that I’ve entertained of buying the albums that I sat out, and their second collection of B-sides, is a sound one. I don’t miss the remixes, and now that I’m not “collecting” Pet Shop Boys, I can cope with just having their baseline work in the Record Cell after liquidating all of their singles that I used to have. This concert showed that they are still worth keeping an eye and ear tuned into their well-considered body of work.
Next: …Les Femmes Du Moogfest vs. Kraftwerk!