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  • With a generally deadpan singer and another guy behind a bank of synthesizers, the Pet Shop Boys just aren't built for live albums, even if the songs are exquisite, there's an orchestra behind them, and some very special guests appear. While the duo can deliver in a live setting, the experience relies heavily on the visual, check the Performance or Somewhere concert videos for proof. Still, for fans, Concrete must exist since it captures the duo's May 2006 appearance at London's Mermaid Theater, an invite-only affair with the BBC Concert Orchestra as backing band. The song selection doesn't read like a greatest-hits compilation because save "It's a Sin" and "West End Girls," everything here was originally recorded with various sized orchestras. Singer Neil Tennant is obviously proud of the high-profile arrangers the duo has worked with in the past and pays respect to them between the music with special mentions for Craig Armstrong, Angelo Badalamenti, and Anne Dudley whose former partner in Art of Noise, Trevor Horn, is musical director here. These little interruptions make the album like a PSB episode of Storytellers as Tennant brings up some points of interest, like how the fascinating Badalamenti arrangement of "Rent" played here is from the Liza Minnelli album that the Boys curated, Results. Other bits from the fringe of the catalog include selections from the duo's The Battleship Potemkin soundtrack and their musical Closer to Heaven, but more interesting is hearing guests Rufus Wainwright and Robbie Williams pull the bittersweet out of "Casanova in Hell" and "Jealousy," respectively. As a one-off show with a "pick-up" band, it isn't surprising that some tracks are executed brilliantly ("The Sodom and Gomorrah Show," "Dreaming of the Queen") while others stumble and fall ("Numb," "It's a Sin") but there's often a good dialog going between the duo and orchestra, and only "It's Alright" sounds exactly like the studio version. While that's probably not enough to keep everyone occupied, fans and fetishists will embrace this curio. ~ David Jeffries
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