Pet Shop Boys at the Ventura Theater
By David Cotner 04/17/2014
That rather hyperbolic platitude — lazy and boring at practically any other juncture — at this point applies exceptionally well to the Pet Shop Boys because this is the essence of audience reaction to the singular and shuddering spectacle of the duo’s performance tonight: Wow! Ohhh! Fuuuhhh! Wooooo!
And yet the Pet Shop Boys, now in its 30th year, is deserving of slightly more than subguttural hosannas. Underneath all the discofied niceties, reason has always been its stock in trade. This is the tour for the group’s latest album, last year’s Electric, released on its label x2; the phenomenon of 50 million records sold is not without its ultimate perks. A psychedelic trip down a projected subway tunnel opens up before the audience; it’s the inverse of Kraftwerk’s Autobahn and just as fraught with metaphor, as much a statement about the darkness of the underground as Kraftwerk’s song is about expansiveness. Presently, the hooded triangular forms of singer Neil Tennant and keyboardist Chris Lowe march toward the audience like UFOnauts as projection and reality merge and become one.
“One More Chance” starts the night, weirdly affecting amid the allegorically costumed spectacle exploding in a dadaist vein. They’re bedecked in spiky black ruffles as they continue into “A Face Like That,” amid projections of dancers romancing in a sea of quantum mechanics equations that also blare ironically behind the smash hit “Money.” Tennant is also savvy enough to remember the showmanship that comes with a simple “Hello, Ventura!”
“Love is a Bourgeois Construct” — one of the new songs — unfolds in front of black-and-white projections of British working life behind Tennant’s keen and keening observations about The World in General, deftly transmogrifying the word “bourgeoisie” into a vocodered coda in the chorus.
“Fugitive” segues into “Integral” and then into “I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind of Thing” while two dancers onstage are revealed to have the skulls of bulls on their heads, luxuriant flowing locks of some strange animal or other as they shimmy and squirm. The Boys come out in stylized metal bull masks and suave dress suits after the first of several costume changes. It’s the hit “Suburbia” now, and the skulls flank Tennant, the corpse of The KLF rising from the grave ere this night is out. “I’m Not Scared” flows into “Fluorescent,” and green and blue laser rays are brutally synced to the cowbell on “West End Girls,” which, given the East and West ends of Ventura, always had a peculiar kind of meaning whenever it was played on Q-105.
A cover of Streisand’s “Somewhere” precedes the 2012 song “Leaving,” a song executed under the frosty gaze of blue spotlights bouncing off helmets made of eviscerated disco balls. “Thursday,” another new song with its dancers caged in a box of circuits and covered with masks recalling couture designs from Maison Martin Margiela, is a production inspired by the lust for weekend leisure, while the visuals accompanying “Love etc.” are of the Boys tumbling just beneath the surface of a calm blue ocean. It’s an image that makes perfect sense because theirs is an ocean of sound cascading through the theater, constantly and consistently lifting everyone up, beat after beautifully incessant beat. “I Got Excited” becomes “Rent” becomes “Miracles,” and the red-and-white lights framing the hit “It’s a Sin” — which owes a massive and unheralded debt to Cat Stevens’ “Wild World” — become chastened in the light of the constitutionally tender take on Elvis’ “Always On My Mind.”
If you missed this pleasantly disconcerting concert, you missed one of the greatest spectacles Ventura County has ever seen inside any of its concert halls, ever. A drunken dancing man puts his arm around me as I write. “Be sure to put in there that they’re the best band in the world!” Quite.