As live music continues to make its return, one of 2020’s most anticipated tours has finally taken place on U.S. stages two years later as “The Unity Tour” makes its way across North America, wrapping up this weekend in Vancouver.
Pairing electronic and dance music, the Pet Shop Boys and New Order are a natural fit, with trance DJ and producer Paul Oakenfold opening the show.
“It’s been truly wonderful. And it really makes me think how lucky I’ve been – we’ve all been – to get back out and enjoy ourselves. Even just going in a bar and having a beer means a lot,” joked Oakenfold of returning to the stage prior to a sold out recent performance at Huntington Bank Pavilion in Chicago. “To be on this tour – to be invited by Pet Shop and New Order – has been fantastic. We did Madison Square Garden. This is sold out. Hollywood Bowl. These are iconic, wonderful venues. So, for me to be playing music between both sets is great.”
On stage in Chicago, Oakenfold built the bridge between Pet Shop Boys and New Order, keeping the music going throughout a seamless changeover between acts, a rare luxury for fans in the outdoor amphitheatre setting.
“I do two sets. The first set is more melodic, current club music, and the second set is more the tunes that people know,” Oakenfold explained. “So I’m kind of looking at it in two ways: I want to drop some of the classics that the crowd knows and loves – Depeche Mode, Bowie, some of my stuff – and then also some new club music. Because this isn’t a retro tour – we’re still alive and kicking. I’ve got a new album out. The Boys have got new music. So it’s a bit of both.”
In Chicago, Oakenfold, who dropped the new album Shine On earlier this year, eased into the Pet Shop Boys with Everything But The Girl’s “Missing,” the colors of the Ukrainian flag displayed on a massive video screen flanking the stage, the DJ ramping up the energy into New Order’s closing set with cuts by artists like Eurythmics, U2 and The Prodigy.
“Chicago!” screamed singer Neil Tennant, highly disguised keyboardist Chris Lowe removing his mask as the Pet Shop Boys offered up “Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)” on stage in Chicago.
Opening the set with “Suburbia,” both Tennant and Lowe performed beneath oversized street lights, a screen rising later to reveal a pair of drummers and an additional keyboard player backing the duo.
“Good evening, Chicago! This is ‘The Unity Tour’ and we are the Pet Shop Boys!” said Tennant. “Tonight, we’re gonna go on a journey where West End girls dance with boys from New York City…” he said. “Where being boring is a sin, the music plays forever and the streets have no name!” he declared, the intro keyboard part to U2’s live versions of “Bad” gurgling underneath the duo’s take on “Where the Streets Have No Name,” mashing up the U2 classic with Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.”
In Chicago, the Pet Shop Boys performance was driven by costume changes, pageantry and dynamite visuals, one defined by an indelibly catchy collection of songs responsible for global sales in excess of 50 million.
“Domino Dancing” sounded terrific on stage in the birthplace of house music as the group made its way into Stephen Sondheim’s “Losing My Mind,” soaring synths informing “Always on my Mind” immediately following.
“This next song is for all the old ravers out there! And I think there’s quite a few!” said Tennant, surveying the Chicago crowd as he set up “It’s Alright.” “The music plays forever!” he sang as the performance headed toward finish, the resplendent “West End Girls” giving way to “Being Boring” as Pet Shop Boys wrapped up.
An outdoor staging in late September along the lakefront in Chicago can be a gamble and temperatures plunged toward the 40s as New Order took the stage next, a breeze out of the east putting a chill in the air off of Lake Michigan.
“We now know why they call it the Windy City…” mused singer and guitarist Bernard Sumner. “It’s freezing!” he asserted, perhaps further expressing his innermost thoughts as New Order kicked off with “Regret.”
An opening video tailor-made for the Chicago crowd, featuring iconic imagery and architecture like nearby Soldier Field and the north side’s Uptown Theatre alongside prominent figures like Hall of Fame White Sox outfielder Minnie Minoso, ran to open the show, a fun extra step the band took to localize the evening.
A Sumner guitar lick cut through the playing of original keyboardist Gillian Gilbert, bass thumping along during “Age of Consent,” an early highlight. Gilbert added additional guitar to “Ceremony” next, New Order launching a triple guitar attack.
“It’s great to be back in Chicago!” said Sumner, setting up “Your Silent Face.” “We’ve said that for many years but it’s true,” he continued, setting down his melodica to blow his nose midway through the performance.
An updated beat drove “Bizarre Love Triangle” while an almost disco-like feel fueled “True Faith” later, New Order heading toward an encore which has celebrated their roots as Joy Division each night.
“From Manchester by the lake… This is so Manchester you wouldn’t believe it,” said Sumner in Chicago, noting the group’s English home base. “Can I just say we really appreciate you waiting this long to come see us? Two years of dog s–t. Thank you very much.”
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