Review – New Order and Pet Shop Boys at Rogers Arena, Vancouver, Oct 16 2022
Formed in 1980 out of the ashes of Joy Division, New Order predates Pet Shop Boys by one year. Both acts came to be defining bands of the post-punk British landscape, and both embraced dance music but with decidedly different takes. Joy Division had been a guitar band, and New Order carried on strumming when JD guitarist Bernard Sumner took on the role of frontman even as the group explored new theories of dance. Pet Shop Boys however were all-in on synths from Day One, something that was apparent from its first single, “West End Girls.”
Another point of difference: New Order became a trendsetter while not seeming to care a whit about hit singles, at least in North America. Pet Shop Boys however were “the pop kids,” as vocalist Neil Tennant sang on a 2016 song of the same name, and they pursued Top 10 tyranny with a Napoleonic intent. According to Wiki, the smartypants duo of Tennant and Chris Lowe have been duly rewarded for their efforts, with 42 top 30 singles. New Order’s biggest hit, “Blue Monday,” seems accidental. Who sets out to make the best-selling 12-inch single of all time?
All of which is to say that the two bands, now firmly (and not-so-firmly) middle-aged, couldn’t be more well-suited for a co-headlining tour. This was apparent Sunday night at Rogers Arena, on the last night of their twice-postponed Unity Tour. Scrappy, occasionally messy, sometimes rock ‘n’ roll, New Order blasted through a crowd-pleasing set of songs known more for infecting the DNA of club music than for climbing the charts. Immaculate pop craftsmen that they are, Pet Shop Boys played a set that was tight, theatrical, brain-exploding visually, and hit-filled.
New Order was first, following an opening DJ set from Paul Oakenfold. If the band members—original members Sumner, keyboardist Gillian Gilbert, and drummer Stephen Morris, along with Phil Cunningham and Tom Chapman on second guitar and bass—lost any sleep rehearsing before the tour it didn’t show. Nevertheless, “Bizarre Love Triangle, “Subculture,” “Regret,” “Ceremony,” and “Age of Consent,” among others, sounded as thrillingly vital and groundbreaking as ever. They augmented the music with lasers and projections, as one must when trying to reach the not-so-cheap seats in an overly branded hockey rink.
For an encore, the quintet played two Joy Division songs. The driving, generational “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” a song that has metastasized in the culture since its 1980 release, was expected, but the elegiac “Atmosphere,” which preceded it, was a surprising, if melancholy, treat.
Pet Shop Boys came out as just a two-piece, with Tennant and Lowe in bizarre H-shaped masks and posing under prop street lamps, like they were voguing some kind of science-fiction Frank Sinatra album cover. Following a few songs, including the poisonous “Suburbia” and the spikey “Can You Forgive Her?”, Tennant doffed the mask and the backdrop fell away to reveal a full band (and even, at a few points, some guitar). The songs and performances became sweatier and more soulful as the night progressed, even as the light show and projections became more and more mind-blowing. “It’s a Sin,” one of the band’s best-known and earliest hits, ended the set; the continued relevance of its lyrics about hypocrisy and human rights was clear. For the encore they went even further back, to “West End Girls.” But Tennant and Lowe saved the best for last—“Being Boring,” their ode to growing up, getting out, and becoming older, if not wiser.
“We were always hoping that, looking back/You could always rely on a friend,” Tennant sang, hugging his streetlamp. And with that, the Unity Tour came to an end.
Check out the New Order photo gallery and Pet Shop Boys at Rogers Arena photos.
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