My 7 favorite live performances of PSB songs

  1. "Left to My Own Devices" as performed at the Trevor Horn tribute Prince's Trust concert at London's Wembley Arena, November 11, 2004 (and as documented on the DVD Trevor Horn and Friends: Slaves to the Rhythm)
  2. My single all-time favorite live Pet Shop Boys performance. The extended Introspective album version of the song is here played to absolute perfection by many of the same musicians and backup vocalists who appeared on the original—perhaps most notably operatic mezzo-soprano Sally Bradshaw and, of course, Trevor Horn himself. And with an orchestra to boot! A remarkable audiovisual document that I'm deeply grateful was recorded for posterity.

  3. "How Can You Expect to Be Taken Seriously?" as performed in the 1991 Performance concerts (and as documented on the Performance DVD)
  4. A modified rendition of the Brothers in Rhythm single/video mix of the song—so much better than the album original, at least in my opinion—that builds upon its creepy groove to deliver an even creepier visual presentation. No joke—I get the shakes when the lights dim toward the end and the press/businesspigs bring out their forks to begin devouring Neil and Chris, dancing (in pseudo-slow-mo, no less) in an ecstatic exhibition of simultaneous greed, gluttony, and lust.

  5. "So Hard" also as performed in the 1991 Performance concerts
  6. I love a good visual non sequitur. And this is about as good—and as non sequitur—as it gets. I mean, the hair alone is enough to make you wonder what the hell is going on. In my younger days I would've sworn that somebody was on drugs when they dreamed this up. But I'm old enough now to know full well that drugs aren't necessary for such wildly fantastic flights of imagination. Indeed, all that's needed is an imagination that's fantastically wild.

  7. "So Hard" as performed in the 1994 DiscoVery concerts (and as documented on the DiscoVery VHS)

    Again? You would think it's one of my favorite PSB songs, but it's not. (I mean, I love it—but it's not one of my favorites.) But this time it's not a non sequitur. Instead, the Boys go completely in the opposite direction and take things very literally—so literally, in fact, that this rendition reportedly would have risked getting them arrested in Singapore if they hadn't toned it down there. And, in case you're wondering, it's not the presence of the seemingly naked go-go boys per se that appeals so much to me. It's just the very idea of it. See how intellectual I am about these things?

  8. "Burn" as performed on December 7, 2016 on Russian television

    A genuinely exciting performance by the Boys on the Russian talk/comedy/variety show Вечерний Ургант (Evening Urgant), hosted by Ivan Urgant. The lighting, the sound, Neil's vocals, Chris's keyboards, the support musicians (the same three performing with them on their concurrent Super Tour), an extremely enthusiastic audience, and the song itself (what a fantastic choice!) gelled perfectly. It was as if to say, "This is how it's done, people!" I'm hard-pressed to think of another instance in which a thirty-year veteran band delivered one of their newest numbers on television so effectively and with such verve.

  9. "It's a Sin" as performed on June 24, 2000 at the Glastonbury Festival

    Opening with a majestic church organ that immediately imbues the song, even more than usual, with epic grandeur, it then launches into a familiar yet, this time, somehow especially energetic arrangement, including a fairly subtle but no less fabulous sampled choir during the bridge. Inspired by the sheer glory of the surrounding sound, Neil offers one of his strongest, most animated live vocals ever. Not even the interpolation of "I Will Survive" toward the end (something the Boys had often done before but which in this case seems singularly needless, like slathering icing atop an already perfect brownie) substantially detracts from what is in every other way an absolutely flawless execution. The festival crowd responded rapturously—as well they should have.

  10. "Love Is a Catastrophe" as performed in an April 2002 TV appearance on Later… with Jools Holland
  11. Yes, that's right. One of only three Pet Shop Boys songs that I dislike is the subject of one of my favorite live performances of theirs. How can that be? Because I pride myself on being able to distinguish objectively between the song itself, which I do dislike, and the excellence of its performance. The Boys and their backing band do such a great job with it—including Neil's superb vocal—that it almost redeems the song in my eyes. Almost. That should count for something, don't you think?