Pet Shop Boys, Fatboy Slim and Arrested Development dazzle at Sandance at Atlantis The Palm

The Pet Shop Boys make a comeback at a rejuvenated Sandance in Dubai.
Pet Shop Boys’ singer Neil Tennant, left, with the keyboard player Chris Lowe. Celia Peterson for The National / May 9, 2014
Pet Shop Boys’ singer Neil Tennant, left, with the keyboard player Chris Lowe. Celia Peterson for The National / May 9, 2014

After traffic chaos marred the last party on New Year’s Eve, Dubai’s Sandance festival was back on Friday with a decadent celebration of music.

And who better to headline in such circumstances – following Fatboy Slim, Arrested Development and Scouting for Girls – than the electro pop pioneers Pet Shop Boys, attempting to return to the big time after two decades of languishing in the charts?

The “boys”, who are now comfortably into their 50s, were last on a major tour in 2011, supporting the ageing boy-band Take That, where they looked somewhat resigned to rehashing their impressive back catalogue to a background of high-pitched screams for the main act.

Four years and two new albums later, all that has changed as the duo unleashed their flamboyant stage-show on Dubai’s Palm Jumeirah.

A former music journalist, the singer Neil Tennant knows a thing or two about striking that fine balance between keeping the crowd engaged by belting out the sort of camp classics that made the band famous in the 1980s, and promoting the group’s new album.

So the show started and ended with tracks from the 2013 album Electric – a return to the catchy electro pop of years gone by – sandwiching a string of the anthemic disco hits the band have become best known for, including West End Girls, It’s a Sin, Go West, Always on My Mind, Sububurbia and Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money).

As always, the keyboard player Chris Lowe remained stock-still on stage, his face inscrutable behind dark glasses, every so often pressing a button or changing absurd headgear (from an entire glitter ball to huge metallic moose horns), leaving Tennant to sing, strut and occasionally interact with the crowd.

Yet there was plenty of visual excitement to carry the show, with a pair of highly athletic and talented dancers, as well as weird and wacky costumes and set designs backed up by a blaze of video, light and smoke.

The high point was probably an upbeat rendition of the band’s 1993 hit I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind of Thing interspersed with Igor Stravinsky’s avant garde The Rite of Spring, complete with balletic dancing and horned animal-head costumes.

The band’s 1988 hit Domino Dancing, to which the crowd enthusiastically sang the “all day all day” chorus, was also complemented by a routine in which dancers covered in streams of tinsel bounced across the stage on pogo sticks.

There were also points where the stagecraft fell flat. This was the case for an ambitious set of two huge, upended double beds onto which torsos of athletically leaping men were beamed while Tennant and Lowe stood behind, immobile, with only their heads visible.

Sadly for Tennant, someone forgot to provide him with a microphone for the performance, forcing him to emerge from his “bed” and strut around the stage in a gold suit, leaving Lowe seemingly lost and abandoned, rather like a forgotten elderly relative at a party.

And, despite being billed as the festival’s headline act, with a start time of 9pm, the band had finished before many of the evening’s revellers had even arrived – perhaps a ploy by the organisers to ensure the crowds arrived early, or, perhaps, a plot to ensure that electronic pop’s most famous quinquagenarians could get an early night.

The support acts

Friday marked the first trip to Dubai for the British Indie pop band Scouting for Girls, prompting the frontman Roy Stride to pronounce Sandance “within the top five of Scouting For Girls’ all-time gigs” within a few songs.

Running rapidly through a list of the catchy tunes that have placed the band at the top of the United Kingdom’s singles charts since their 2007 debut album went platinum, it was impossible not to sing along to songs such as She’s So Lovely, Millionaire, Everybody Wants to Be on TV, I Wish I Was James Bond and the 2010 hit Posh Girls. It was a performance of raw energy and palpable enthusiasm, often prompting the bassist and co-founder Greg Churchouse to wave his arms, directing the crowd as though leading a chant at a football match.

The band’s entry on stage was marked with a complete change in the crowd in the mosh pit, to a swarm of shrill teeny boppers from the middle-aged men who had arrived early to sing along with opening act Arrested Development.

“Raise you hands if you first listened to Arrested Development on cassette tape,” the rapper Speech called to the crowd and a forest of arms appeared.

However, compared with the 1990s old-school hip-hop and rap band Arrested Development, overall, Scouting for Girls fell a little flat with the mainstream audience. It wasn’t just that Arrested Development’s songs were better known to a broader demographic of the Dubai fans, but classic crowd-pleasers such as People Everyday, Mr. Wendal and Tennessee retained an edginess and raw power that made lyrics about meeting posh girls appear childish.

Published: May 10, 2014 04:00 AM


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