Pet Shop Boys et al 2002 David Bennun
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Pet Shop Boys/
Sade/
Trail Of Dead/
Lambchop

[The Mail On Sunday, 2002]




SADE
LOVERS LIVE
Epic
**

. . . AND YOU WILL KNOW
US BY THE TRAIL OF DEAD

Pavilion Theatre, Brighton
***

LAMBCHOP
IS A WOMAN
City Slang
****

PET SHOP BOYS
The Astoria, London
****

SADE sold 6 million copies of her last album, Lovers Rock - none of them to anyone I know. Who's been buying these records, and why are they keeping so quiet about it? Sade may be the Habitat wine rack of pop stars, but there's no shame in that.
 I hold no brief for or against the woman, any more than I do the clouds which pass overhead. She's just there. Nice. Pretty. Unobtrusive. Wouldn't notice if she stopped. Hardly notice when she starts. So I'm eluded by the purpose of Lovers Live - sedate concert recordings, just like the studio versions with a bit of polite applause at each end. You might as well balance a framed photograph of your Habitat wine rack on top of your Habitat wine rack. If you already own a Sade CD, tape some crowd noise off the telly and play them back together. Bingo. There's fifteen quid I've saved you.
 I do get the point of a live show by . . . And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, though. Mainly because they do their damnedest to live up to their name. Sonic Youth, The Cure, thrash metal and several foaming flagons of bile. That's all the reference points you need for this Texan quartet. Trail Of Dead have two modes: seethe and blister. They also have a fair few good tunes - although, understandably, these tend to run away and hide when the band really get going.
 Picture a small outer suburb of hell breaking loose. Trail Of Dead change guitars twice a song because the strings can't take it. Two singers are required - one skinny, one stocky - as just the one couldn't carry the gig without ripping his own throat out. The last I see of Stocky, he is bobbing across the heads of the crowd howling like a timber wolf while plastic beakers, cigarette packets and what look like somebody's socks hail around him. I'm not saying this doesn't happen at Sade's shows. But if not, perhaps it should.
 From ultra-loud to the sound of silence. Lambchop are, in theory, an alt.country band. Their last outing, Nixon, was a bold but all too often grating attempt by mainman Kurt Wagner to marry the spirits of Hank Williams and Curtis Mayfield. His new collection is no less daring but altogether more successful.
 Is A Woman leaves empty those spaces most records clamour to fill. Wagner drapes his deceptively haphazard-sounding songs over delicate, bare-bones piano. The result is a languorous meditation on the mind's discomforts, which pulls off the neat trick of seeming serene and restless all at once. The album shares its uneasy stillness with the best work of Talk Talk's Mark Hollis, and ex-Velvet Underground man John Cale's hushed magnum opus, Music For A New Society. It will therefore top the hit parade around the same time that I head up Sade's Christmas card list.
 If contemplative, bittersweet chart candy is what you're after, there's only one place to go: wherever Pet Shop Boys happen to be. On Thursday, that was the London Astoria, where they concluded a low-key tour of smallish venues. Chris and Neil's previous shows have been lavish affairs: dancers, costumes, theatrics, smoke, mirrors, albino tigers. . . or am I thinking of Siegfried and Roy? Over the years, for reasons as much financial as artistic, the productions have been scaled back. Now we find PSB performing simply as a band. And for the most part, it's quite wonderful.
 There's always been a folksy singer-songwriter trapped inside Neil Tennant and ground beneath the heel of a polka-dotted disco boot. On PSB's forthcoming album, their best in nine years, Acoustic Neil has thrown off his Hi-NRG oppressor. This is as close as PSB get to playing unplugged, and it means they are exactly as good as the songs they preview. So on Home And Dry and You Choose, they are pensive and sublime. The forceful ballad I Get Along is closer to Oasis's Don't Look Back In Anger than to anything in PSB's own repertoire. On the minus side, a knot of rather anaemic newer numbers causes the show to slump in the middle like a hammock.
 All credit to PSB for following no path but their own. Maybe they intend to prove that they needn't rely on their greatest hits. Fair enough; still, it's a pity to tip the balance quite so far away from one of the most delectable back catalogues in modern music. A handful of classics sprinkled into the set merely whets the appetite. West End Girls, Being Boring and Love Comes Quickly are superb. Go West - this being an audience where even the women can bellow the choral part in a lusty baritone - is more of a joy than ever. Don't bin the disco boots just yet, chaps.





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