“New York City Boy,” the new single from the Pet Shop Boys, may well be the first song of the 1990s with a heavy debt owed to the Village People. Camped up on stage by the presence of four male dancers in sailor outfits, the song follows the disco dogma of steady beats and a simple repeated melody enhanced with sexual imagery, yet its design is oh-so modern that it borders on precious. A standout in a career-spanning evening, “New York City Boy” gets it legs from its blatancy, making it capable of withstanding the relentless onslaught of hard and heavy beats, which hindered the subliminal aspects of the Boys that have made them so endearing for 15 years.
The highly theatrical concert was divided with calculated neatness, placing 10 hard-edged familiar tracks in the first 50 minutes and using the post-intermission spread for a far wider palette. The tone for both segs was set immediately through lighting, instrumentation and costuming. Concert’s opening was a series of green video snow projected onto a giant white sheet accompanied by pounding scratchy electronic blips.
From there, PSB banged out the hits — “West End Girls,” a sprawling “Being Boring,” “Left to My Own Devices,” and “What Have I Done to Deserve This” with a video of the late Dusty Springfield projected on an enormous diagonal sheet behind singer Neil Tennant — emphasizing songs with dense, suffocated beats and uncompromising structure. This part of the program, executed with enchanting coldness, seems to lack any room for change or expansion; night after night, it must be exactly the same.
Part two quickly took a humanistic turn as Tennant, who entered in white windbreaker and slacks after performing the first set in a black trenchcoat, a striped skirt and blonde wig of spiked hair, took out an acoustic guitar for the new “You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You’re Drunk.” Seated on the six-foot-high platform that occupied much of the middle of the stage, he was surrounded by his backup singers-dancers dressed in jumpsuits, patterning their communal semi-circle after a late ’60s variety TV show look.
Part of the Pet Shop Boys’ attraction has been the deceptiveness with which they tackle issues; in this case the troubling sentiment of “You Only Tell Me” is clouded by superficial eye candy rather than a dance beat, which may be their most subversive act yet.
After all, if the Village People can be a influence, why not the Fifth Dimension, which seemingly would not be out of place in the hands of Tennant and his keyboard partner Chris Lowe. Add to it, the slightly clumsy moves of the dancers who were calculatedly out of synch — and reveling in it on numbers such as the Latin-tinged “Se A Vida E.” It certainly provided an air of emotional attachment to the music.
The evening reached a dramatic conclusion with “It’s a Sin.” Lowe and Tennant, singing in front of a backdrop of stained glass that included the musicians’ images, began the ’88 chart-topper with an organ solo ripped from someone’s “Mass” and concluded with Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.” On certain levels it was incongruous and absurd, but surrounded by dramatic lighting, the melting electronics and the deadpan delivery of Tennant, logic and distinction permeated the perf.
PSB has made its mark as a great singles band and its rare tours deepen its credentials as a formidable act. While the new Sire/London album “Nightlife,” released Tuesday, extends the specific sound band members have worked for 15 years, it ventures into other dance music forms that have held little sway with PSB over the years. On a track like “Vampires,” which kicked off part two Monday, the conviction that drives “New York City Boy” is not only lacking, it surprisingly demonstrates how much of a niche PSB has carved and how smart it is to stick to it.