Since I missed Pet Shop Boys during their Unity tour in 2022, I was excited to hear that the synthpop duo has just released Dreamworld: The Greatest Hits Live at the Royal Arena Copenhagen. Movie theaters are screening the filmed concert on January 31 and February 4. This Copenhagen concert of Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe’s greatest hits—as the tour title specifies—was filmed by live performance director David Barnard in July 2023.
One might ask if performance films are still relevant when YouTube is full of concerts that people have recorded and posted. However, the popularity of Taylor Swift and Beyoncé concert films are indicators that fans are eager to support their favorite artists and to experience the official content.
The same could be said of Pet Shop Boys, whose concerts have long garnered critical acclaim. They’ve perfected their shows, offering attendees the ultimate party experience with vibrant imagery and musical arrangements during each sold-out international tour. They have also carefully curated their own material elsewhere since they found fame in the 1980s. Their publication Annually sells pretty well, featuring interviews, photos and an inside look of what’s happened over the past year.
Some Minor Constructive Points
At the Copenhagen concert, Tennant and Lowe hit the main points of their career effectively with “It’s a Sin,” “West End Girls,” “Single-Bilingual,” “Vocal” and the more recent single “Monkey Business.” They’ve spent months on the Dreamworld tour, notably mounting a fantastic medley in 2022 at Glastonbury, one of the UK’s biggest music festivals. There, and as in Copenhagen, Tennant playfully speaks to the crowd, weaving his remarks together solely out of PSB track titles. It’s not only a preview of the music for the next two hours, it also demonstrates how ideas and illusions in a dreamworld merge and change over time.
It’s very difficult to find fault with a Pet Shop Boys concert, especially when Dreamworld is centered on their greatest hits—what fans usually want but don’t often receive in a show. My constructive feedback could be considered minor, quite frankly. In the Unity tour, Tennant performed a stripped-down version of “You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You’re Drunk,” a song that would’ve been nice to include in the Dreamworld setlist in Copenhagen.
Concert angles are problematic briefly during Barnard’s film, in which he uses 14 cameras. Going for an immersive feeling is a well-intended goal, but it’s slightly distracting at the beginning with so many cell phones in his frame trying to record the show. While the little screens are still visible throughout the concert, their frequency dissipates somewhat after the opening tracks.
The other Dreamworld concert angle that doesn’t always work is the overhead shot. In those birds-eye views, there is so much light on stage that Tennant often looks blurry. Looking from above doesn’t offer extra information for viewers in terms of lighting, color or choreography either.
On the ‘Dreamworld’ Vocals
Those issues aside, Dreamworld impresses from the beginning, with “Suburbia,” to its encore tracks “West End Girls” and “Being Boring.” You’d be hard pressed to say that Tennant and Lowe don’t play one of your favorites, with a setlist that also brings hits “Heart,” “Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money),” “New York City Boy” and “Rent.”
Tennant delivers as a charming storyteller and a talented singer, shifting from his speaking voice to his midrange singing and falsetto with ease. A welcome highlight of the concert is when Lowe switches roles to perform vocals for “Paninaro,” a wonderful track that isn’t done live nearly as much as the other singles.
Pet Shop Boys were joined by singers and instrumentalists Clare Uchima on the keyboards and Afrika Green and Simon Tellier on percussion. The harmonies remain solid throughout, with opportunities for Uchima to shine as a co-vocalist with Tennant. Her clear, higher background notes ring out first during “I Don’t Know What You Want But I Can’t Give It Anymore.” Then Uchima returned memorably to sing Dusty Springfield’s part in “What Have I Done to Deserve This” and Olly Alexander’s part in “Dreamland.”
What Really Pops in ‘Dreamworld’
As in previous tours, Pet Shop Boys used a screen in the middle of the stage for their Dreamworld visual effects. The color palette is simple with black and white to start with, mirroring the black and white of Tennant and Lowe’s clothing. After a few tracks, however, they lift the screen to reveal more of the stage and move the visuals behind Lowe. The imagery fits the theme of dreams, incorporating dynamic lines, a multiplying stick figure, and some music video footage later punctuated by splashes of oranges, blues and reds.
While the choreography might be considered light compared to prior tours—no background dancers for example—Pet Shop Boys make all of the movement count, doing things differently on a couple of tracks. Tennant, who usually stays at the microphone for “Love Comes Quickly,” opted for a slow, shadowy walk across the stage while the screen was lit with reds and blues. It added a haunting and poignant effect to the song.
Movement is incorporated in another creative way for “What Have I Done to Deserve This” with two white street lamps. As Tennant and Uchima circle the street lamps, the stage crew move the two platforms closer and then further apart. The distances between the singers add a bit of levity and playfulness to the lyrics, which center around a failed relationship.
What’s Next for Pet Shop Boys
Before the opening credits roll for Dreamworld, an advertisement ran announcing PSB’s forthcoming album, Nonetheless. Due out from Parlophone on April 26, it will include the track “Loneliness,” their new single that’s already available digitally for purchase. If you purchase the two-CD or the double white vinyl deluxe editions, you’ll receive bonus EP Furthermore.
With 2024 marking the 40th anniversary of the “West End Girls” single, it’s great to see that fans have yet more to enjoy from Pet Shop Boys. Let’s hope it’ll be many years before the synthpop duo releases anything titled Nevermore.
Visit the Dreamworld film website for more information.