Sunday, 28 August 2016

Two Gigs - Pet Shop Boys and Proms 19 Bowie Night

In the last month or so I've been to two big gigs: Pet Shop Boys 'Inner Sanctum' show at the Royal Opera House to promote their new record, 'Super'; and the Proms tribute night to David Bowie with string arrangements of some of his classic songs at the Royal Albert Hall. Rather than gigs, these were really concerts given the venues and despite the pop/rock nature of them both. And there's nothing wrong with a concert.

As recent convert to all things Royal Opera House I was interested to see what the Pet Shop Boys would do with that venerable red and gold auditorium and how the place would cope with marauding Pet Shop Boys fans... well, not quite marauding because your average PSB fan is, shall we say, largely past the marauding age. The bar seemed to have discovered beer and the ushers even allowed you to take glasses into the auditorium (something unheard of!). Ten the lights went down, the grand curtains lifted and the thump-thump-thump of electronic beats started. It was time for the Pet Shop Boys!

The show opened with lasers flashing and two big domes slowly turning revealing the lads to the sound of 'Inner Sanctum' from the new album and then mayhem was released with the best laser show ever - the '80s were good for something after all! It really was astonishing sitting there with these incredible lights and lasers firing off everywhere and creating patterns and shapes of wonder with those loud beats (phat beats anyone?) pulsing around the auditorium. At one point I looked round wondering when one of the balconies might collapse due to the endless thumping.

Song after song kept the atmosphere electric with a very eclectic selection of hits and favourites as well as a liberal sprinkling of songs from the new record. 'West End Girls' was, surprisingly, the second song to be played, and I quite liked that - get the obvious hit out of the way to keep us guessing later on. I loved hearing 'Winner', their Olympic song from London 2012 and the best song that summer, 'The Sodom and Gomorrah Show', the bouncy 'Love, Etc', 'New York City Boy', 'The Pop Kids' from the new record, 'It's A Sin' and the great 'Go West'. The encore was 'Domino Dancing' and 'Always On My Mind' with an outdo version of 'The Pop Kids' for good measure. The 'fat-suit' dancers at the end were inspired, something totally alien to that stage which is used to the athletic, powerful bodies of ballet dancers.

The second concert was on the stage of the Royal Albert Hall as part of the BBC Proms summer series and was dedicated to the music of David Bowie. Back in January, Amanda Palmer and Jherek Bischoff released an EP of six Bowie songs as a tribute to his passing. All were rearranged by Jherek for a string quartet and they made a suitably startling attempt at reinterpreting some of Mr Bowie's classics. That worked really well, but would it translate into a two-hour concert with various composers and arrangers re-arranging his music for the string orchestra that filled the stage?

It was a strange affair put together by Andre de Ridder and his chamber orchestra Stargaze. I had to keep reminding myself that this wasn't a long-rehearsed show of hits, but rather a set of re-arrangements for strings with guest vocalists but what worked for half an hour on Amanda's EP didn't really manage to sustain it over a full two-hours show. Possibly the problem was having too many different people doing the arrangements and too many different singers? If you're going to do something like this then you need big names and with the best will in the world you can't really consider someone like Neil Hannon 'big'.  The biggest pop name was Marc Almond and he wasn't really on form, only starting to come alive with a sing-along 'Starman'. The biggest 'cult' name was John Cale who actually brought most a band onstage for his three-song mini-set of 'Valentine's Day' 'Sorrow' and 'Space Oddity'. I liked his 'Sorrow' but 'Space Oddity' just went on and on and on ...

The women were far more powerful and imposing than the men. Anna Calvi did a haunting version of 'Lady Grinning Soul', Laura Mvula did a good job at trying to funk up a string version of 'Fame' and Amanda Palmer did a powerful 'Heroes'. Highlight of the evening was Amanda's and Anna's duet on 'Backstair' with Jherek prowling behind them with his guitar slashes.  That received a huge round of applause and, no doubt, lots of new fans for the two singers.

The concert ended with the usual 'get everyone back on stage for a sing-along' to the frankly weird choice of 'After All' from 'The Man Who Sold The World'. Why that song? Who chose it when there are so many great songs to send us out into the night on a high? Amanda, of course, brought her baby son on stage for that encore - what a collection of baby photos he's going to have when he grows up!

If a winner is needed then the gold medal easily goes to those Pet Shop Boys for a fabulous show - I want to live in that laser show! The Proms comes second for a worthy idea that, for me at least, didn't really work. But good on ye for trying.

All photos nicked from the internet, with thanks.

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