New Order & Pet Shop Boys turn DMV into rave

The two 80’s techno-stalwarts are on a co-headlining tour

Pet Shop Boys and New Order brought their summer co-headlining tour to the DMV with a stop on Wednesday (Sept 21st) at Merriweather Post Pavillion in Columbia, MD.

On its face, this a genius combination. Both bands significantly influenced techno, dance, and rock music. They did so by carving out their own space and defying genres in the 1980s. It worked, and both groups have fans that are legion, decades later.

New Order went first, offering a hefty helping of their infectious style. Their style remains defined by melodies that are played on bass. The other, more technological elements — such as Stephen Morris’ drum set/drum pad hybrid set up — come in over the bass line. This style was created by former member Peter Hook, who has since left the band.

The results are layered numbers stuck somewhere between delicious rockers and delirious club music. Their stage show embraced the latter, with lights and lasers pulsing to every synthetic and organic beat. Stylistically, New Order performed without any follow spots. The effect put the focus on the music and the vibe it created, instead of the accomplished musicians who were playing it.

The highlight of the New Order set was their final song, “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” It is a hit from New Order’s first iteration as Joy Division. The crowd responded their loudest, suggesting that perhaps love will do the opposite of what the song suggests.

Pet Shop boys took the stage a little before 9:30 pm. The pair performed the first third of their show under two futuristic street lamps. Lead singer Neil Tennant at times embraced his lamppost as if taking part in a 1950s musical film. In fact, the wonderfully flamboyant Brit just gives off “50s musical camp” as a performer. It’s fabulous.

By contrast, keyboardist Chris Lowe stood firmly under his own streetlight. Long ago having embraced his mysteriously stoic aura, he seemed to consciously refuse to move any muscle other than those in his figures.

“Suburbia” opened the show. The pop-dance band barely slowed down. “Where the Streets Have No Name (I Can’t Take My Eyes Off You)” takes the latter part of its name from The Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons hit of old. As such, it provided a fun singalong early in Pet Shop Boys’ set.

Pet Shop Boys career is equally defined by original hits and reimagining of classics. Both of which defy your body not to move to the groove. Long before 24 writers had to be credited on a single song due to the tangled legal web of modern-day sampling, Pet Shop Boys refreshed other’s music into infectious hits. The legitimacy of this was backed by their own originality. They were the OG remixers.

Eight songs into their 19-song set, the long screen that allowed for the clean stage image of just the duo lifted, the lamps pulled away, and their three-piece band was revealed. The threesome plus a now-elevated Lowe — behind a huge mission control with two screens and at least two keyboards — worked in synch to execute PSB’s techno-wonders. If there’s a way to play electronic music live, the Boys have found it.

And that music does not stop. Between acts, DJ Paul Oakenfold keep the beats loud and the atmosphere lively. Those with sensitive ears be warned. That means from Oakenfold’s first set at 6:30 pm until PSB ends at 11 pm, the music does not stop.

There were some tender techno moments as well. “Always On My Mind” and “Love Comes Quickly” were strikingly poignant.

The Pet Shop Boys stage show is a visual and aural feast. Not as heavy on the lights and lasers as New Order, they opt instead for creative wardrobing, along with immersive projections across three walls. Oh, and hats. Lots of hats. The crowd are up every element on offer.

That is true across both bands. New Order and Pet Shop Boys turned Merriweather into a rave appropriate for men and women who may have thought their clubbing days were behind them. But looking around at the head-bouncing, fist-pumping crowd, that was decidedly not the case. This tour proves that no matter your age, we all deserve to cut loose and dance. That is one thing that is surely is NOT a sin!

Matt Bailey
Matt Bailey

Matt Bailey is podcast producer and writer located in the Northeast. Since 2013, Bailey has produced more than 160 episodes of his own online radio show, Talk For Two. In 2016 alone, he interviewed Kevin Bacon, Crystal Gayle, Bob Barker, and Gilbert Gottfried, among several other stars. As a Correspondent for The Music Universe, his focus is Broadway, country music and concert reviews.