When Judge Eric Profancik was in school they taught him how to be so pure in thought and word and deed. They didn't quite succeed.
In 1997, the Pet Shop Boys (PSB) did a two-week stint at the famous Savoy Theatre in the West End of London. It was a historic event, as no major artist had played an extended set in the West End. It's extremely appropriate for PSB to be the first, considering their long history that often intertwines with the West End—most notably their famous song "West End Girls" and the fact that the original name of the band was West End. Their time at the Savoy is captured on this disc.
I've always like PSB's music, but this is the first chance I've had to see any of their live work. And I was surprised…though I really shouldn't have been. For those of you who don't know, the PSB are a two-man group comprising Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe. While the two write all the music together, Neil is primarily the singer and Chris is primarily the musician. Their brand of music is what I'd classify as techno-pop; most of their music is electronic, and most of it is pre-recorded and layered when pressed to CD.
If you think about that, what are these guys going to do on stage? What exactly are they performing? As becomes painfully apparent, most of the music is already pre-recorded. There's a mini-doc bonus feature you can watch that details a bit about the show, and in one part the question is asked, "How much of the music is pre-recorded?" Though the stagehand isn't keen on the word "pre-recorded," he admits that "99% of the show" is pre-recorded, "except what Chris is playing onstage." I'm not sure exactly what Chris is doing on stage, but I'll get to that in a bit.
So what exactly do you see when the PSB perform at the Savoy? A pretty boring show, that's what. If I had paid good money to see these guys live, I think I would be quite disappointed with the "show." Allow me to describe the stage and the show. The stage at the Savoy is small, so not much was done (or could be done). There's a backdrop that spans the entire width of the back of the stage. In the center of it is a "box" in which Chris stands and performs on his Roland synthesizer. There's some lighting in the "box" that pulsate throughout the show; there are also some steps that lead up to the "box." On each side of that box are two large video screens that show a pre-recorded video of twenty-somethings just lounging around. Then there's Neil, the front man and singer. He pretty much just walks around the stage and sings. There's very little choreography, and Neil isn't a showman. He doesn't dance, and the closest you get to excitement is him tapping his right thigh with his right hand. Also on stage is Sylvia Mason-James, a backup singer who moves and dances a bit more than Neil. And then there's Les Child, the group's choreographer. I have no idea why he comes out for a few songs, because he adds nothing to the performance. Not to be too harsh on the chap, but all he does is swish around in nylons and a black boa. All I can say about Les is that he's gay…very, very gay.
In summation, this is the most boring show I've ever seen—just two guys standing around. But there's also another little "problem" that nagged at me throughout the show. I wondered if Neil was really singing or if he was pre-recorded as well, for he was just too "perfect." I couldn't detect a flaw in his presentation, and it sounded just like one of their CDs. Further, Neil kept the microphone in front of his mouth the whole time, so you couldn't tell much there either. For the first half, I was entirely convinced he was lip-synching. Then in the second half, that conviction slowly eroded and I started to believe he was singing. And when he did his acoustic encore of "Rent," I was then entirely convinced he was that good and was actually singing. Just to be certain, I then downloaded some MP3s of the song "Somewhere," and I got a few other concert versions, reinforcing that Neil does sing and isn't always perfect.
What's most important to me in a concert DVD is the sound, and Somewhere doesn't disappoint. The 5.1 mix completely surrounds and envelops you from all sides. The music and occasional dialogue is perfectly crisp, clean, and clear from the center, the directionals add that wonderful immersive quality to the music, and the subwoofer doesn't overpower you. Music is just so much better when in 5.1 surround. In the end, if you didn't know you were watching a live concert, you'd think you had just listened to a CD.
The full-frame video doesn't fare quite as well as the audio, but it won't detract from the presentation. Throughout most of the presentation, there's a fine haze in the video. It gets a bit heavier when the lighting goes down, which also highlights the murkiness of the blacks. Details are lost and colors are adequately rendered. It's not bad, but it's not a top-notch Hollywood production. And aside from some questionable camerawork, it's nicely done.
As I mentioned earlier, one featurette (25 minutes) gives a little tour of what goes on backstage to get a show ready. I enjoyed this little piece, but won't ever feel the need to watch it again. It's all about the music, and I was again surprised that the show and the encore only ran about an hour.
Though I may sound a bit against the DVD, I really enjoyed it—mostly because of the great musical performances. The Pet Shop Boys may be boring performers visually, but their music more than makes up for the lack of showmanship. I've had "Somewhere" going through my mind for days now, so I know the disc's a keeper. If you like the Boys, then you should add this to your collection.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
• Backstage at the Savoy
Review content copyright © 2004 Eric Profancik; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.