After years of anticipation, The Unity Tour of Pet Shop Boys and New Order arrived at The Hollywood Bowl for two sold-out nights this weekend. These two legendary acts would sell out on their own, so to see both in one night created electricity that I am still trying to recover from!
There was a full moon in the SoCal sky with perfect evening temperatures at the iconic 100-year-old Hollywood Bowl. In addition to full sets from both artists, DJ Paul Oakenfold would make his magic happen in between.
New Order and Pet Shop Boys have rotated opening and closing, but tonight it was PSB up first. Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe are notorious perfectionists about their performances and can be counted on for an incredible visual experience with outfit changes and artistic details. Of course, Lowe will always be hidden behind a hat and glasses, revealing no emotions.
After Oakenfold warmed up the crowd, the onstage video screen lit up in blue and yellow to reflect the flag of Ukraine. Eventually, the screen went black, a dance beat began, and two streetlights and a cage-like structure appeared onstage. The lights cut to black and the drum beat intro of “Suburbia” began. Lowe’s voice then said, “Sooner or later….” and the crowd began cheering and hollering. The quiet one speaks! “This happens to everyone…” Lowe said, quoting the lyrics of “Love Comes Quickly.”
The cage began to lift and then, standing there with silver masks shaped like an H was the duo of Tennant and Lowe. Decked in black and white with black and white visuals, it was a stark beginning to what would become an incredibly colorful set.
They performed “Suburbia” and “Can You Forgive Her” in place with little movement, which may have made some question what was in store for the rest of the night, not knowing their flair for the theatrical. But as soon as Tennant grabbed the mic, pulled off his mask, and smiled to the crowd, and began “Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money),” the audience was on their feet.
Tennant hung casually off one of the street lamps and welcomed the crowd with an intro tying in multiple PSB songs: “Good evening, Hollywood! We are the Pet Shop Boys. Tonight, we’re going to go on a journey through music and memory. Where West End girls dance dominos with boys from New York City. Where Che Guevara and Debussy are easily led behind a bicycle shed and make it so hard. Being boring is a sin. The music plays forever. And the streets, well, the streets have no names.”
Just as they would for each song, the audience screamed loud and cheered hard as the intro to “Where the Streets Have No Name (I Can’t Take My Eyes Off You)” began and the stage seemed to be a subway car speeding through tunnels. “Rent” followed and became the first song of the night to feature clips from the original music video on the display.
“I Don’t Know What You Want but I Can’t Give It Any More” and “So Hard” we followed by Tennant and Lowe leaving while a construction-looking crew changed the staging. As “Left to My Own Devices” started, the cage lifted to reveal the three percussionists who have been performing with PSB, and a DJ-set up which Lowe moved to as Tennant sauntered out in a new outfit.
“Los Angeles, it’s wonderful to be back here!” Tennant told the audience. “But when I say back here, this is the first time we‘ve ever played The Hollywood Bowl. What a night! Paul Oakenfold. Pet Shop Boys. New Order. What have you done to deserve this? Now I want you singing this one.”
As is standard for “Domino Dancing,” the crowd sang the chorus, which Tennant said, “Hollywood, that was pretty good, but we can do better.” The next rounds of the chorus were echoing off the famous Bowl, forcing Tennant to exclaim, “Amazing! Thank you!”
With the band and Lowe hidden behind the screen, only showing as silhouettes during the chorus, “Love Comes Quickly” featured Tennant alone, walking slowly across the stage as he sang with blues and purples on the backdrop. It was a gorgeous moment and another example of how artistic PSB is with every detail in their shows.
Another fantastic detail was next when the cage returned to keep Tennant locked behind it as he sang “Losing My Mind.” Perhaps not as well-known as some of their other songs, the next one, “Always on My Mind” had people up and dancing again. At the song’s end, Tennant exited the stage and the spotlight shone on Lowe as a voiceover from him said, “Back where the air is free, we’ll be what we want to be. Now if we make a stand, we’ll find our promised land.”
October 7, 2022
The intro to “Dreamland,” the only song off their 2020 album, “Hotspot,” to be played on this tour, began as Tennant reappeared from behind Lowe sporting a shiny silver jacket and sunglasses.
What I found to be the most visually stunning song of the night, “Heart,” followed. With lasers and LEDs that imitated a starry sky and various Tron-like lines and boxes, it was really breathtaking, perhaps extra special due to the Bowl’s architecture and location.
“It’s Alright” and “Vocal” – which had the stoic Lowe bouncing along – were followed by the mega-popular “It’s a Sin.” As Tennant chanted the prayer at song’s end, he joined Lowe by the raised DJ set, all the lights and screens went white, and the duo walked off behind the stage together, signaling the end of their set.
Yea, like that was the end of a sold-out show?
A crew came out to adjust the stage with just the street lamps and small keyboard and mic. The familiar bump-bump sound of “West End Girls” started and the crowd started cheering again. Lowe – in a hoodie, leather jacket, and BOY ball cap – and Tennant – in a nice, black overcoat – reminded us of their ‘80s look while clips from the original video aired behind them.
At the song’s end, Tennant told the audience, “Los Angeles thank you so much! That song first brought us to Los Angeles in 1986. Richard Blade was playing it on KROQ. It’s beautiful all these years later to see you all here. I think some of you have brought younger generations with you as well.”
Pet Shop Boys closed their set with “Being Boring” as a simple scene of passing street lights ran behind them. For an act that used to be labeled as two guys and a computer, they showed once again they can captivate an audience with just the two of them and minimalist visuals.
After another Oakenfold set, the video screens began showing clips of California landmarks: Disneyland, Hollywood, Tower Records, the Whisky, and strangely, the 1992 riots. The filmstrip appeared to switch, then another began showing more landmarks: Capitol Records, the beach, Hollywood Boulevard, and The Hollywood Bowl. It faded to black, and white letters appeared spelling out New Order.
The lights came up a bit and there was New Order with front-man Bernard Sumner strapping on his guitar and welcoming the crowd, “Hello! Obviously we’re New Order. Let’s have a real good time together.”
While Pet Shop Boys orchestrate every move, New Order was more of a laid-back rock show which began with “Regret” and bucking bronco images on the video screens.
After the song, Sumner greeted the crowd again, saying it was their third time playing the Bowl and what a beautiful venue it was. They jumped quickly into “Age of Consent” which made the crowd cheer loudly and allowed Sumner to show off his guitar skills. In fact, as the set went on, his vocals got stronger and each member – Stephen Morris (drums, keyboards), Gillian Gilbert (keyboards), Phil Cunningham (guitars, keyboards), and Tom Chapman (bass, keyboards) – were all incredibly excellent. As much as PSB looked sharp and distinguished, New Order was dressed casually and looked like parents who used to be in a band, grabbed their instruments at a BBQ after a few beers, and then showed everyone at the party they are still epically awesome.
Every song brought out cheers from the audience and dancing did not stop, even as people took selfies and videos. New Order went through “Restless,” “Ceremony,” and “Your Silent Face,” which included Sumner doing the melodica (fun fact: they are also called “hooters”) intro himself while a film-style video showed the band member’s names and scenes from Los Angeles at night.
Sumner dropped his guitar and announced, “This is a new song” and did some adorable dad dancing for “Be a Rebel.” They released the song in 2020 ahead of what was to be the original date for this tour and the dance song was definitely new to some in the audience, but they grooved along anyway.
The energy shot back up as fan favorites “Sub-culture,” “Bizarre Love Triangle,” and “True Faith” drew people to their feet. Sumner kept up his clapping and dancing (again, adorable!), at times holding the mic out to fans at the front of the stage for them to sing parts of the choruses.
The applause after “True Faith” was deafening, and once again Sumner spoke to the audience: “I know this is a real fucking cliché, but is everyone having a good time tonight? Even the people at the back? Even the people beyond the people at the back?” As the crowd cheered, he continued, “Well that’s the general idea, so we’re real glad you’re enjoying yourself. We’re certainly enjoying and having a great time.”
The oh-so-familiar intro of “Blue Monday” began and what I thought was energetic in the past ramped up even more. The song most associated with New Order was met with lots of singing and dancing, and unfortunately, the gentleman in the box next to me shared that he lost his virginity to it. Thanks for that, random dude.
“Blue Monday” led into “Temptation,” complete with audience sing-along and clap-along. At song end, Sumner thanked the fans, “Thank you! Thank you so much, LA! You are a fantastic audience. Thank you for welcoming us,” and departed the stage.
Fortunately, applause brought them back for an encore, which Sumner introduced with, “We’re going to play something a little different now. We’ve never played it before so please bear with us if we get it wrong. But we thought it would be a nice song to play in LA. We’re going to do a punk version of this song.” Their song of choice? “California Dreamin’” from The Mamas and the Papas, which they did quite well. “We thought we’d give it a go!” Sumner exclaimed at the end.
New Order closed out the evening with Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” which included the words “Joy Division / Love Will Tear Us Apart / Forever Joy Division” scrolling on screen along with a photo of their late front-man, Ian Curtis.
As the Ukrainian flag was once again shown on the video screen, Sumner said “Thank you very much! Muchos gracias! Much love!” and bid the Bowl crowd goodnight.
It was truly an amazing show from two legendary artists at a historic venue! The Unity Tour wraps up in Canada this weekend, and now I have to find a way to get there to see it again!