On paper, a few of the wild highlights of the Pet Shop Boys’ performance Saturday at the Shrine Auditorium seem so ridiculous: Two backing dancers wearing sparkly, gold and silver lamé pompom suits, bouncing on pogo sticks while the long-running British synth-pop duo played their infectious hit “Domino Dancing,” for example.
Singer Neil Tennant, he of the sturdy tenor singing lyrics of being “chained, framed -- you know what I mean” in “One More Chance,” grooved in a barbed black jacket with porcupine-like needles jutting out in all directions. During another song, partner Chris Lowe wore a mirror ball-helmet while playing a laptop and synthesizer that throbbed with four-on-the-floor rhythm. Those dancers later arrived on stilts, wearing Dada-esque neon orange cones on their heads.
The Pet Shop Boys, born in London in the early 1980s, were in Los Angeles on the final stop of an American tour in support of their excellent new dance pop album, “Electric.” They brought many humming beats and a primal disco vibe into the Shrine, offering “electronic dance music” in the purest sense of the term: synthetically crafted sounds built for the dance floor, whether that little plot be in your bedroom, a hopping West Hollywood club or within an auditorium.
A Saturday night spent with the Pet Shop Boys is better than one without them. Few can so convincingly offer literate, joyful dance music that moves both the booty and the brain. Over an action-packed, visually striking few hours that saw Tennant focusing on topics including beauty (“A Face Like That”), fame (“Fluorescent”) and in “Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money),” entitlement, the pair played songs from throughout their career while wittily messing with the tropes of modern dance-pop performance.
To wit: Backing dancers were a focus much of the night, employed as a way to distract from Tennant’s relatively staid -- but fabulous-looking -- onstage presence. In the classic Brit-crooner tradition, he moved with elegance, gracefully gesturing with his arms and hands but minus much pelvic grinding, even during “West End Girls.”
Rather than showcase would-be cheerleaders, though, Lowe and Tennant outfitted their two dancers more artfully, once in well-tailored suits -- and oversized, sharp-horned bull heads. Choreographed to move in synchronized, funk-infused unison, the Dada-esque dancers bobbed their bullhorns with the music while Tennant sang of falling in love so hard that “I feel like taking all my clothes off, dancing to ‘The Rite of Spring,’ and I wouldn’t normally do this sort of thing."
There was much man-made fog, which poured into the crowd like serotonin. At times, so much puffy joy billowed that the Shrine looked like the Hollywood version of heaven. Spears of pink and white lasers penetrated the haze, suggesting some sort of futuristic bliss.
The pair, though, selected a few covers that emphasized their ability to repurpose the past. The country standard “Always on My Mind” highlighted bittersweet regret beefed-up with heavy rhythms, and the “West Side Story” classic “Somewhere” touched on pure longing.
This was the Pet Shop Boys’ most notable accomplishment. With great bombast and wonderful ridiculousness, the team delivered music that was strikingly human, packed with heavy emotion as dynamic and driving as the bass propelling the bodies.