Noel Megahey has reviewed the Region 0 release of Pet Shop Boys: Montage. A live concert DVD recorded on the 1999/2000 Nightlife tour. ‘Was It Worth It?’ or were the Pet Shop Boys just ‘Being Boring’?
The 80s was the last great decade of pop bands, but few of the bands from that decade have survived with the same degree of success as the Pet Shop Boys. While many other luminaries of that period are still around – Spandau Ballet, Adam And The Ants, ABC, The Human League, Culture Club – they are now novelty acts on the club circuit replaying greatest hits from days long past. Along with possibly only Depeche Mode, the Pet Shop Boys remain a strong unit, filling halls like Wembley Arena or Earls Court and, as this DVD shows, creating new music and not relying on glory days of the past.
At their best, the Pet Shop Boys are capable of intelligent pop songs with clever arrangements and catchy melodies – and in a period when pure and original pop-bands seem to be a thing of the past, their continued longevity is both welcome and deserved. While I have no illusions about the integrity of the music scene in the 1980’s, the pop-world was surely a lot less a cynical marketing and merchandising exercise than it seems to be today, when pop-bands are faceless, latest-big-thing DJs/producers or a bunch of irritating wannabees put together by a jury to appeal to the lowest common denominator.
Recorded on the Nightlife Tour 99/00, the main concert footage on this DVD was filmed over 2 nights in Germany, with additional material from US shows. The original projections of the show plus parts of Pet Shop Boys‘ videos are mixed in with the footage of the live performance. The first half of the performance sees Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe in Nightlife costume, looking slightly stiff and silly. After the interval, Neil looks much more relaxed and mobile about the stage.
While everyone will have their own favourites, highlights of the performance for me were an excellent re-arrangement of Being Boring – an atmospheric song that wouldn’t normally work terribly well live, but has been given a minimalistic arrangement, an incongruous techno mid-section and is beefed-up with a powerful beat and a change of key towards the end of the song. This is the Pet Shop Boys at their best, showing an inventiveness and a tendency to re-work and update their material. While I didn’t see the band live on this tour, I saw footage from Glastonbury on BBC and had the impression that this harder, techno edge would be more prevalent than it actually is in this performance – and I would certainly have liked to have heard more songs updated this way. The same tendency for re-invention is evident in their arrangements of the opening song, West End Girls and What Have I Done To Deserve This, two gems of songs that sound as fresh as they did in the mid-eighties. Young Offender is also treated to a new, mostly instrumental arrangement, which sounds like it is based on Jam & Spoon remix of the song. It’s Alright is closer to the version on Introspective than the single version, and its gospel sound benefits from the troupe of backing singers that the group had on this tour.
What I didn’t enjoy about the performance – well, there’s absolutely no excuse for inserting a verse of ‘I will survive’ into It’s a Sin – an otherwise pulsating version of the song with strobe lighting effects. And while I didn’t think an acoustic interlude was really necessary, it at least gives an opportunity to hear the song arrangements and the vocals clearly, and shows that, surprisingly, the band could easily do an unplugged set. Some songs suit this better than others – You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You’re Drunk comes across well, but not better than the original, while Was it Worth It?, a thumping dance song, is a very poor choice for an acoustic arrangement. Footsteps, never a favourite track from the Nightlife album is revolting in this concert – a twee little song that sounds like something out of a Doris Day musical. It provides the audience with a chance to hold up their lighters. Need I say more?
PictureThe quality of the image is variable. It looks like it was shot on video and is often quite grainy. There also appears to be some digital artefacting, but there is so much manipulation and mixing of the images that you are not really going to notice. Occasionally, the effects can become irritating and unnecessary and the screen is cluttered with multiple shots. The constant editing and mixing of images isn’t very exciting visually, but at least they have made a bit of an effort. Back projections are presented on the multi-angle feature, and while the quality and choice of the images here is poor, again, at least they have made some concession to the DVD format. The aspect ratio of image however is 4:3, which is a poor choice. Why not anamorphic widescreen? The picture however can be zoomed to 16:9 if you prefer to fill a widescreen TV and you’ll not really lose much in terms of picture composition or resolution.
SoundThe surround sound music mix on the film was done by Pet Shop Boys regular, Bob Kraushaar, but there appear to be two distinct sound mixes for different parts of the concert. The first half of the show, the sound is clear and sharp, occasionally a little tinny even, lacking the body and depth which the pounding bass sequencers really need. The vocals are reasonably clear, but the backing vocals, provided by a troupe of four black American male vocalists, can rarely be heard in the mix. After the interval, the sound is better, more fully rounded, but the bass sounds muddy on occasions, noticeably on Se a vida é and Shameless. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is definitely preferable to the Dolby Digital 2.0 mix also included. The use of surrounds is excellent, but while the overall quality of the sound is fine – especially when the volume is pumped-up, it never really gives you the impression of being there.
ExtrasPromo videosAdditional promo videos are included for:New York City BoyYou Only Tell Me You Love Me When You’re DrunkI Don’t Know What You Want But I Can’t Give It Any More
Hidden videoA hidden video, a live version of For Your Own Good, appears only after all three promo videos have been played. There is no concert footage on this video, only screen projections. The sound, unlike the rest of the concert, is Dolby Digital 2.0 only.
Multi-angleAbout half of the tracks on the DVD have a multi-angle feature, showing back projections and clips from Pet Shop Boys videos. There is an option in the menu to show the multi-angle selection of tracks, but I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to use this feature as the images are almost all repetitive and dull. Footsteps, to use the worst example, uses a 5 second clip of the audience on repeated loop. You can switch angles during the performance of the full concert and this is probably the better way to use the feature, if you get bored or irritated with the effects on the main angle. It will not provide you with much relief though.
Each track can be accessed directly from the menu and the selection of songs for the concert should please most fans. The full track-listing for the concert is:
• West end girls• Discoteca• Being boring• Closer to heaven• Can you forgive her?• Only the wind• What have I done to deserve this?• New York City boy• Left to my own devices• Young offender• Vampires• You only tell me you me when you’re drunk• Was it worth it ? • Se a vida é (That’s the way life is)• I don’t know what you want but I can’t give it any more• Always on my mind• Shameless• Opportunities (Let’s make lots of money)• It’s a sin• It’s alright• Footsteps• Go west
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
Continue the conversation over on The Digital Fix Forum