|New York Tour rehearsals in Bray, |
England Last autumn, the Pet Shop Boys passed through
New York for less than 24 hours during their
American tour in order to play at the famous Radio
City Music Hall for the first time since their now-
Legendary Performance concerts there in 1991.
|October 14,2006, late afternoon. Neil and Chris|
have decided that, instead of bothering with messier forms of transport, they will walk the few blocks from their hotel to Radio City for soundcheck. Out of the hotel door, Neil sprints ahead. He is, as he soon discovers, heading in precisely the wrong direction.”I’ve lost the plot,” he sighs. “I haven’t been here for three years.”
Walking in the right direction, up Sixth Avenue, they stop to look at the ten dollar cashmere scarves being sold at a stall on the street. Chris declares that they can’t be real cashmere. Neil buys a black one. The vendor points at Neil’s clothes. “That’s a nice jacket,” he says. “All the rabbis are wearing a longer version of that:’
“I saw Helen Mirren shopping for cheap scarves earlier,” says Dave Dorrell.Neil says that he has seen her new movie, The Queen, which he thought “was like very superior television
As we approach Radio City, we can seethe SOLD OUT lettering out front.
“Sold Out – that’s what we like,” says Neil. He mentions the different reactions that “Heart”, which has just been added to the set for this leg of the tour
(its first live performances since the 1989 tour), has received in North America so far: hysteria in Canada, indifference in Boston. “Because it wasn’t a single here:’ he says.
Inside, Chris takes the lift and Neil takes the stairs, as is often the case when the Pet Shop Boys ascend or descend. At first, Neil goes to the wrong floor and walks in on some dancing girls who have nothing to do with the Pet Shop Boys show at all. Then, after briefly visiting the dressing room, it’s time for soundcheck.
“Nice here, isn’t it?” says Chris, surveying the grand auditorium from the stage. It is, but it is also freezing cold.They begin to run through the “So hard” / “It’s a sin” medley, but soon stop. The music is unbalanced in Neil’s in-ear monitors and no-one seems quite sure why this should be. While waiting, Chris discusses international phone rates, then they run through “Opportunities”, “Integral” and “Can you forgive her?” Neil, the dancers and the choreographer discuss a choreography issue at some length, and consider whether it will be compromised by anyone falling off the front of the stage, then they run through most of “Integral” one more time.”‘Home and dry’,” instructs Neil, “and then we’ll do ‘Psychological’, and that should be it.” He puts on his acoustic guitar, and starts singing, but not “Home and dry”. “Giant steps are what we take.. .” he begins, then says, “it’s freezing inhere”. They run through “Home and dry”, “Psychological” and “Left to my own devices”. Their choreographer suggests that, as they have ten minutes left, they should do “Numb”.
“You want to do ‘Numb’, right?” he encourages.
From the look on Neil’s face he is considering whether he would rather be somewhere warmer.
“Yeah,” he eventually says, “we’ll do ‘Numb’:’
Chris looks out once more from the stage. “Not many people get to stand here, do they?” he says.
It is announced that the soundcheck is over.
“Right,” says Chris. “Food’”Food glorious food,” says Neil. On the way down to catering, Neil points out that doing shows which start at eight o’clock completely messes up his normal eating schedule, and leaves him hungry after the show. “And then I have one of those famous Pet Shop Boys hot dogs. Or, as I have been having, soup in the hotel.”
Dave Dorrell explains to them, as they sit in catering, that he has been given a proposed advertising concept for the Pet Shop Boys by the famous advertising executive Trevor Beattie.”We know that nothing actually works,” says Chris.
“We’re the Pet Shop Boys,” Neil glumly agrees. “Nothing works:’
“We had a whole meeting at EMI and the conclusion was: nothing really works,” says Chris. “So what’s the point?”
They agree to look at the proposal later.
Neil talks about his recent drive from Toronto to Boston with their tour manager, Andy Crookston, which he did as an alterative to flying. They stopped off at Niagara Falls and then stayed overnight at a town called Casanova (“Casanova in hell, of course,” he says), driving though a blizzard. “There was just a
moment,” he says, “where I thought: this is a really terrible idea. Radio City gets cancelled.”Chris is annoyed.
“I want some proper chocolate,” he declares. All there are, here, are mini-Kit-Kats and mini Marathons. “This is rubbish,” he says.
Back in the dressing room, there is an air conditioning drama. It seems that you can only control it by getting a union maintenance man to adjust it from the room in which the show’s clothes are being sorted out. After a while, this seems so annoying to Neil that he says he’d prefer it simply to be switched off.
Chris walks in, chocolate still on his mind.”This Kit-Kat is Hershey’s,” he complains. “No wonder it tastes wrong. All I want is a decent bar of chocolate, and I get a basketful of…”
Dave Dorrell shows them Trevor Beattie’s idea; simple but quite ingenious. They decide it might work best in conjunction with their next greatest hits album. It sets them thinking about advertising. In Britain, a version of “Go West” which sounds very like the Pet Shop Boys’ but which isn’t, has been endlessly used to advertise Ambrosia rice pudding. “Bob Geldof said to me, ‘You must be making a lot of money from that advert,”‘ says Neil. But, as it is neither their song nor their recording (even though it is far more like their version than the original), they make nothing. “You can’t copyright an arrangement,” says Neil.”He didn’t seem to hear it.” There are other frustrations. Neil mentions how annoyed Chris (who has now gone to the other dressing room next door) has been getting in America at only ever being asked to sign vinyl copiedof Please and Actually. Chris mentioned this to a fan the other day and the fan replied, unperturbed, “I only like the Eighties.”
Dave Dorrell says that they need to be on some American TV shows to bring Fundamental to more people’s attention. They hope Jay Leno might have them on the Tonight show, the show Chris walked off mid-song in 1991. ‘That’s a reason for having us,” says Neil. “He might walk off again.” Neil asks Dave why they can’t get on show hosted by comedian Ellen Degeneres.”Apparently,” says Dave, “we’re not her demographic.”
Appropriately, it’s at this moment that their American agent arrives and joins in the debate. Neil expresses some frustration that, while a new generation of successful stars like The Killers’ Brandon Howers have been talking about how important the Pet Shop Boys have been to them, they don’t seem to be gaining the new American audience one might expect from this. “If I was a 17-year-old Killers fan…” he says. “When I was 17,1 heard about the Velvet Underground because David Bowie talked about them.”Their agent says that ticket sales are ahead of where they were at the same point on the last tour – 30% to 40% up in most places. Detroit and Denver are the only problems.
“We didn’t know that,” says Neil, slightly pacified.
“No one told us:’ says Chris, who has joined the conversation.
“No one told us that we’re a roaring success,” says Neil.
“Don’t worry about Detroit and Denver:’ their agent says adding, “you will, because you’re artists.”
Neil wonders why they don’t get more songs of theirs in movies. “Rufus Wainwright, every week of his life he gets a song in a film,” says Neil. “He’s always doing a song for a film. He had two songs on Brokeback Mountain. We never ever get a song in a film.””Psycho,” Chris points out, and Neil agrees how this was one experience that did work out well. But he wonders whether it would help if they put on Battleship Potemkin in Los Angeles. “People use people who are perceived as hip and contemporary… and that would at least impress people with the scale…” He wonders whether they could do it at the legendary Hollywood cinema, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Their agent agrees that this would mess impressively with people’s heads.
“And,” says Neil, “it’d be nice for Eisenstein.” He suggests there could be an introduction by some important film world figure.
“Spielberg,” suggests Dave.Neil nods. “Scorsese would be better,” he adds.
They discuss possible New York venues. Their agent suggests the huge air carrier, the Intrepid, moored on the river. They consider Rockefeller Center, nearby, and Neil points out that the Mexican artist Diego Rivera, who Eisenstein knew, did a mural there.
“I think the aircraft carrier’s a great idea,” says Neil. “It’ll capture people’s imagination. It’s captured my imagination.”
It’s twenty minutes past seven.
“I think I might have to have a lie down now,” Chris announces, getting up. He returns a few minutes later. “I went to the toilet,” he explains. “There’s no time for a nap now:’
Everyone else leaves.
“I’m too tired to do the show:’ says Chris. “I’ve not been sleeping well. I haven’t had a moment’s peace today.” He pauses to briefly consider his predicament. “Anyway,” he realises, “I’ll be able to have a rest during the show:’They discuss how difficult some of the union people who work here can be, and how famous they are for it.
“I quite like dealing with nasty people,” Chris says, “because you can be over nice yourself, and wind them ~~:’
Neil opens a bottle of white wine, but the cork breaks.
“Don’t stick your finger down:’ advises Chris’s sister. “It’ll get caught:’
They realise that it is 15 years since they last played here.
“Same venue, same hotel,” says Neil.”Same songs,” says Chris, mischievously.
“Quite a few of the same songs,” says Neil. “Then, as now, ‘Where the streets have no name…’ is the showstopper:’
“But now,” says Chris, “it’s just one of many:’
Chris goes to change, and Neil notes that – despite the impression Chris gives – he actually has to focus harder than ever before in this show. “I think it’s entertaining, Chris being so concentrated, because sometimes he wanders off,” says Neil. “We, for the
first time, have gone totally for the record versions – we treat them like scores:’ He’s surprised how well this worked in 2006. “For instance, ‘Shopping’ doesn’t sound dated. Ten years ago, I think it would have sounded dated:’The conversation wanders, as it often does, and suddenly Neil is explaining how “Paninaro”, in its very earliest incitation, started off as a song they were writing for their manager Tom Watkins who briefly was half of a recording duo called The Hudson’s. “Its original lyric went ‘I never thought that I would leave you /but I’m in love with a woman’. But Tom Watkins lost interest in it, and it became ‘Paninaro’:’
Down the corridor, backing singers can be heard singing “It’s a sin”.
“I put my iPod on shuffle earlier,” says Chris, “and Paul Anka’s version came on. It’s really good.””Thank you very much – good evening, New York,” says Neil to the audience, already on their feet as “Psychological” leads into “Left to my own devices”. “It’s wonderful to be back in Radio City. Tonight, we’re going to do the old songs, the new songs, the in-between songs. And this song, which is called ‘I’m with stupid…”‘ The first half breezes its way through – “I’m with stupid”, “Suburbia”, “Can you forgive her?”, “Minimal”, “Shopping”, “Rent”, “Dreaming of the Queen”, “Heart” (popular enough here that everyone bounces back to their feet, as they do for most of the older or faster songs),”Opportunities” and, finally, “Integral”. At the interval, there is a recording played giving instructions to the audience. Though the audience is not told who is speaking, it is – remarkably – Sir Ian McKellen, who says: “Ladies and gentlemen, pet shop boys and girls, there will now be a 20-minute interval. 20 minutes! Thank you.”
(“We did it on the last day of rehearsal,” Neil explains earlier. “I didn’t have the nerve to call him, and Chris kept saying, and finally I called him and he answered the phone – I thought he’d probably be in Los Angeles – and we went round there. He said, ‘Just send your man round,’ and was quite surprised Chris and I both came.”)
In the dressing room, Chris flops onto the sofa.”They love us, they really love us,” he says, melding, as he so often does, irony and sincerity in an indissoluble alloy of his own.
“They’re a good audience for New York,” says Neil. “What about that nutter in row one?”
“He’s just off his tits,” says Chris.
“Isn’t ‘Heart’ a lovely song?” reflects Neil.
Janet Street-Porter appears.
“Janet, you’re not allowed in here,” says Chris, welcoming her in.
“Honestly, brilliant,” she says, of the show so far, a compliment that means more than it might otherwise because Janet might not be as shy as most other people visiting a group midway through their performance in expressing any reservations.After a while, Neil stands up and says, “Well, I’m ready:’ He puts on his top hat.
“Oh God,” he suddenly realises. “I don’t wear
that:’ He takes it off again.
They speed through “Numb”, “Se a vida e” (with its few seconds of “Discotheque”), “Domino dancing”, “Ramboyant”, “Home and dry”, “Always on my mind”, “Where the streets have no name… “West End girls” and “The Sodom and Gomorrah show”, and then, as encores, “So hard”! “It’s a sin” and “Go West”.
Backstage, Chris is annoyed because someone has stolen the lift that is supposed to be waiting for him to levitate him up to the dressing room.
“That was great,” says Neil, consequently arriving there first. The only narrowly-averted slip was when he was asked to get into the military outfit backstage for “West End girls”.”I’ve lost my laminate,” Chris complains, and asks whether they’re planning to have hot dogs.
“Yes,” says Neil, who himself is now annoyed that the moisturiser has been put away.
The lighting man comes in to check on everything.”I thought the follow spots were very professional tonight,” Neil tells him. “Last night I was, ‘Hello! I’m over here!”‘
“Oh, I’ve found it!” shouts Chris. His laminate was on the floor. He brandishes it triumphantly. “You can get places with this. Like to our record signing.”
The Pet Shop Boys are scheduled to sign copies of Catalogue and Fundamental at midnight at Virgin Records in Union Square and so, after mingling with friends and having a quick drink backstage, that is where they go.The queue snakes back through the record shop as far as they can see.
“I come from Peru for the concert,” one of the first in line announces.
“Chris, I loved you in Neighbours,” says another.
‘The peak of his career,” mutters Neil.
“Catalogue looks fantastic,” says another.”It does,” agrees Neil. “I actually don’t have a copy, though:’ (This has since been rectified.)
“‘Home and dry’ was unbelievable,” says another to Neil.
“Say that to Chris,” Neil instincts. “Chris!”
“‘Home and dry’ was unbelievable,” the fan repeats.
“Why?” says Chris, who doesn’t especially like playing it.
“Where’s the after-party?” asks another.
“This is the after-party,” says Neil.’Thank you for playing one of my favourite songs, ‘Home and dry’.. .” says another.
“Chris…” says Neil.
A Scottish man gets a little over-excited when Neil tells him that the Pet Shop Boys are scheduled to perform at Hogmanay – so excited, in fact, that he eventually has to be led away, happy but shouting, by security.
“I was at your first Miami concert that you
Cancelled,” says another.”We were there too,” says Chris.
They are finished by one o’clock. Leave from the loading bay out back in a van, they join the rest of the band who they are having a drink in their hotel lobby, but no one is planning a late night. Tomorrow they must travel to, and play in, Washington.