Coming full circle in so many ways, I saw the announcement for “New Order And The Pet Shop Boys” blasting across my news feed in early 2020 and had arranged to shoot this show on the spot. We all know what happened to mess those plans up. But with many if not all COVID restrictions lifted, we were ready for launch
Event: The Unity Tour
Equal time, Pet Shop Boys / New Order
Date: October 7, 2022
Venue: The Hollywood Bowl
City: Hollywood, California.
A lifelong fan of New Order, they were the first concert I ever saw, in 1987, so, yeah I can say it’s been 35 years of love with this band. They are my 2nd fave band of all time, and I have gone to great lengths to see them live before. I saw them at the same venue, The Hollywood Bowl in 1993, when I thought they were going to break up back then (they did, and… well, it’s been a long dysfunctional marriage as a band for 40+ years). My love for New Order goes so deep, I had been crushed in the pit at the first show on the side of a mountain, and was lifted out of the crowd as I passed out, landing on the ground right in front of the stage, and only remember waking up to see the singer Bernard Sumner standing above me singing. That was a lot for a 13-year-old kid at his first show. There isn’t a gay dance club, or DJ setlist from the ’80s that isn’t stacked with New Order hits, ‘Blue Monday’, ‘Fine Time’, and the song that has nothing to do with its title, ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’, New Order made new wave synth dance rock since they reformed from the ashes of their post-punk beginnings ‘Joy Division’ after their lead singer died by suicide in 1980. They took up synth for the major sound, and never looked back.
‘The Pet Shop Boys’ are a long-standing new wave pop act that I am sure you know if you were gay and listened to “new wave” in the ’80s, ’90s, and… well, still. The lead singer Neil Tennant and principal keyboardist Chris Lowe are both openly gay and have been proud members of the community since they hit the radio waves with ‘West End Girls’ in 1985. An “Andro” style vocals with synth sounds, have cemented them into electronica and dance music for going on 40 years. The ‘Pet Shop Boys’ have been plastered all over EVERY AIDS benefit and “Glad to be gay” CD since they started getting airplay as members of the community, and giving voice to so many others, even with just inspiration.
So to have such an iconic bill with the world-renowned DJ Paul Oakenfold cranking out the dance music between the sets, you just know this is going to be the place to be for all, gay, straight, whatever, just be a fan of great music in Hollywood this weekend, I’m afraid nights like this don’t come around EVER.
Paul Oakenfold is a legend as a DJ and his sole mission tonight was to keep everyone dancing as the “Opener” and during the changeover. In short, there wasn’t a minute this entire evening without great dance music throbbing up the side of the mountain, and everyone swaying their hips.
The Pet Shop Boys took the stage with my favorite song of theirs “Suburbia”, bringing back so many memories of the clubs in school and the movie “It couldn’t happen here”. They were well into their stage show, like a Broadway musical loosely based around their music, with the images on the larger-than-life video screens and “stage set” of streetlights, etc.
They played “Opportunities” and had a lot of the same themes from the original video 35+ years ago. They then played a cover mix of “Where The Streets Have No Name / I Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You”, yeah, if you know it, U2 and Frankie Valli. (I photographed Franki Valli a few months ago too, and U2, so it’s a full circle moment, he was very lively too, more animated than Frankie Valli for sure). They went through a few costume changes, as, well, he started in a knee-length down-filled parka, in 90+ degrees, and, well, yeah I would have changed out of that too. All in the name of art, he went through a few costume changes as the set went on.
Neil Tennant is very big on audience participation, and between each song he cheered everyone on, thanking us repeatedly for coming out to see them after so long, and encouraging everyone to sing along. It was effective because when they performed “So Hard”, we could barely hear him over the audience singing. At “Left To My Own Devices” it was hopeless, all I heard was the drums pulsing and a chorus of 18,000 fans all relatively in tune singing together. You gotta love those moments.
“Domino Dancing” had a bit of a hypnotic video going on behind them, and it left us all kind of in a haze, not sure how the song finished, but it did. By then a full band was out, playing drums, keyboards, and vocals, unlike previous shows, there were no “Dancers” but actual musicians playing at different stations, breaking the mold from tours of yesteryear.
Another high point of the evening was the classic cover “You Were Always On My Mind” (a Gwen McCrae cover), and a stream of hits from their catalog, finishing up the set with “It’s A Sin”, this time sounding more intense than any other time I have heard it, especially on any live performance. I was impressed with how they delivered this.
An encore to tie the whole set up was “West End Girls” because, they HAD to, and then closed with “Being Boring”.
If you are a Pet Shop Boys fan (like I am), then you got everything you could have hoped for in this performance.
As Paul Oakenfold continued his set between bands, I became aware of the fact that it is legal to consume marijuana in all forms in the state of California. I believe I was the only person who was not that night. There was plenty of that going around, and I had a headache from traveling so when the staff at the Hollywood Bowl gave me some aspirin, I felt as if I was given a gift from GOD. Since I don’t consume cannabis I was left out of that part of the fun for the evening.
I knew one of the other photographers, through different friends, and we reconnected over believe it or not Sinead O’Connor in London, back in 1998. Yeah, small world. I also have to say, the wonderful lady at Live Nation who managed the photography, was an absolutely wonderful professional. She deserves mention here, because of all the weird regulations of the venue, she made sure we all got some great shots. Kudos Miss “M” (you know who you are, thanks again).
New Order took the stage, and, well, they have been doing this so long, and somehow they morphed from the “electronic rock/jam” band to a sort of tightened down well-timed, well-tuned performance. New Order pioneered so much music, and sound, doing so much of it on the fly over the years, that playing live, really LIVE was difficult. That being said, since the beginning, New Order is notorious for playing everything live, and relying very little on their sequencers, which created a charming sort of chaos every night, for YEARS. I have hundreds of New Order bootlegs and after hearing those, and seeing them live, you know what to expect. They are going to be “Off” in the most endearing way, because it is 100% Live, and 100% REAL. What can I say?
They opened with “Regret” from 1993, (The last time I saw them at this venue actually) and this time, almost 30 years later, it holds a deeper meaning about the whole experience and lasting friendships. They played “The Age of Consent” from 1983 which has the token Peter Hook / New Order bassline that is not really about anything but is always great to listen to, it was also in “Wayne’s World 2”.
New Order had a “Divorce” 10 or so years ago, when the bassist Peter Hook, aka “Hooky” left. They have a new bass player, he is kind of viewed by most as “the scab”, to New Order neophytes and purists (myself included) but he does a good job. He played “Ceremony” which is an epic song with one of the most recognizable bass lines of all time. It is a must-play for every New Order concert, and we all knew the words “I’ll break them down, no mercy shown, heaven knows it’s got to be this time”.
We walked to the pit during “Your Silent Face” and shot for “Subculture”, “Bizarre Love Triangle”, and “Plastic”. I have to say this was rather amazing, and strange at the same time. The Hollywood Bowl was built long before there needed to be a “press pit”, so the front-row seats were just a few feet from the edge of the stage. So, it was us, standing with everyone in the front row taking shots with everyone else filming with their phones. (You can see me in several of the videos filmed that night on YoutTube up the next day). Something pretty cool happened this time, Gillian Gilbert the keyboardist/guitar player actually danced. I am not kidding, she is stoic, and doesn’t interact much with the audience, in Las Vegas in 2017 I saw her smile on stage for the first time, and now, she danced, I mean she swayed her hips a bit while playing. THAT WAS AWESOME, just to see that being the crazy fan that I am, this was a special moment.
They had some wonderful visuals of just everyday life, airports, and construction sites, all on the screens behind them, along with one hell of a laser show, and strobes. New Order began using lasers on their shows back in 89, and it’s gotten more impressive over the years.
They introduced themselves that way, on the screen “Live Performance by” and then named each member of the current band.
For so many of the songs, Bernard has taken to conducting the fans singing along, in the motion of the 4/4, as if we are his symphony. That along with the typical “airplane” moves, not much of a dancer, but he did bounce around like he has been known to do.
Even though they are a supergroup, and fashion designers use their music on the runways, New Order never was much for dressing up in anything other than street clothes, and never looked like a band, so you really might miss them if they were walking around. I know this because I have met them in the audience at their shows just hanging out during the opening act. So, to see the drummer Stephen wearing a “NASA” Jacket, and Bernard in a t-shirt black jeans, and running shoes, along with all the other live shows, you know New Order don’t fancy themselves as rockstars.
We finished shooting, then they played “True Faith” the song that took them into a regular radio play in 1987, then their albatross “Blue Monday”. It’s their albatross because they did it as a joke with a broken keyboard to leave a sequenced song playing while they left the stage to avoid playing encores. The whole thing failed and now it’s their biggest hit, the most-sold 12″ single of all time, with a surfer/James Bond-esque bassline that has stood the test of time.
They played my 2nd fave song of theirs “Temptation” another must, that had EVERYONE dancing, and singing along, the lights changing along with “Oh you’ve got green eyes, oh you’ve got blue eyes, oh you’ve got gray eyes”. If you can imagine 18k people on the side of a mountain singing this in unison, that is what New Order managed to get us to do.
They did something unusual, New Order is not a band to do covers, maybe 3 in all their history, and they sang a synth/punk version of “California Dreamin'” by the Mamas & The Papas. It was weird and really cool, and something completely out of their wheelhouse.
Something that they wouldn’t do for 20 years, New Order finished the evening with their Joy Division hit “Love Will Tear Us Apart”. New Order just avoided playing any Joy Division for a long time after the singer Ian Curtis died in 1980. So since they started playing Joy Divison songs into the set, it has always been welcome. Their impact is such that “Love Will Tear Us Apart” is the most covered song of all of the New Wave / Alternative songs ever written.
New Order has been together in one form or another through many sagas, and chapters that will have music history courses written about them on how they influenced pop culture for centuries. Since 1978 they have been “A band” and made music, and still managed to keep their heads about them. A “Supergroup” with legends and myths attached to them, much of it they disavow or don’t care to even acknowledge. But, if you are lucky, you can say that you were able to see them live. You will walk out of the show knowing you experienced something historical, monumental, and 100% real. This time, for both bands, it was 1986, 1989, 1993, 2017 all over again… Sort of.
(There are multiple streamed bootleg video recordings of both bands sets both nights, on YouTube, just wonderful to watch).