DALLAS -- Say what you will about the Pet Shop Boys but no one can accuse these guys -- frontman Neil Tennant and silent sidekick on the keyboards Chris Lowe -- of resting on their luxurious laurels. After more than 30 years making smartly crafted and wryly amusing electro-pop and commercially peaking in the ‘80s/early ‘90s , they could just blow through town, churn out the hits, and no one would be the wiser.
Yet, as they showed at a capacity Majestic Theatre in Dallas Tuesday night in a slow-to-start but ultimately galvanizing 105-minute set, they’re not ready to be consigned to nostalgia. Their most recent album, the clubby Electric, is as current as Avicii and Skrillex, if more smoothly soulful. And they played much of it Tuesday, no doubt to the consternation of many who either stood stock still or remained seated during such recent tracks as Love Is a Bourgeois Construct.
Plus, they remain visual provocateurs, this time bringing back costume and set designer Es Devlin -- who has worked with the Boys before, Kanye West and Muse as well as theater and opera companies -- who employs dance, video, costumes and lighting in cheeky ways. The two dancers, whose faces were obscured with various masks for much of the night, added a sense of play that added a dimension to the songs.
But, for the first 45 minutes or so, it didn’t really seem to be coming together. Maybe it was their seemingly uncomfortable costumes, in which they looked like porcupines. Maybe it was so much recent material, like the opening Axis or A Face Like That, that much of the audience didn’t seem to know. Maybe it was that Tennant seemed reserved.
Things changed once they slid into the sleekly seductive Suburbia and everything clicked. Tennant and the audience came alive, the staging became more elaborate -- the highlight was Tennant and Lowe’s faces performing from two upright beds while videos of anonymous lower bodies writhed beneath them during Love Etc. -- and the choreography became even more impressive.
At their best, the Boys combine a knack for melody, groove, and storytelling -- as on Rent and I’m Not Scared -- that made them much more than just another synth-pop act. Combine that with their sense of dance-culture and gay-culture empowerment and they offer a unique musical perspective that has yet to be duplicated.
So when they charged through to their end of the set -- with their sweeping take on Willie Nelson’s Always on My Mind, the engagingly bombastic It’s a Sin, the hooky Domino Dancing, the anthemic Go West, and the dancefloor optimism of Vocal -- they had turned the Majestic into a roiling sea of bobbing heads and dancing bodies.
Live, Vocal even included a hint of the song to which it owes a rhythmic debt: It’s Alright, a cover of a house-music classic that is not only one of the Boys’ best dance tracks but, at the time of its release in the ‘80s, was viewed by many as a hold-your-head-up to a community devastated by AIDS. And, on Tuesday night, everything definitely was all right.