Pet Shop Boys Help a Houston Crowd Find Their Inner Pop Kids

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Pet Shop Boys
White Oak Music Hall
November 2, 2016

The idea of seeing Pet Shop Boys outside seemed absurd. If ever there were a group that screamed for four black walls, a ceiling and ear-damaging sound, it was this duo of dance legends from London, England. Sure, at a festival, maybe seeing them while standing on a gentle hill on an overcast night would be acceptable, but club music outside of the club on a Wednesday night?

Of course, you don’t end up being dance-music legends without being experts at your craft in your own idiosyncratic way, which is a fancy way of saying that PSB delivered at the occasionally controversial White Oak Music Hall lawn. For more than an hour and a half, they conjured up a series of immaculate electronic pop songs, each pristine in its own way.

While some were still getting into the venue as set opener “Inner Sanctum” started things off, most were settled in as the duo kicked into the second song of the set — and one of their biggest hits — “West End Girls.” That set the tone for the night, the band proving to have absolute faith in their music, ability to perform and the crowd’s willingness to follow them wherever they went sonically.

These songs, many of them older than the DJs headlining the recent Something Wicked festival, were still as catchy and dancey as they were when they were first put out on vinyl, and Neil Tennant’s hypnotic vocals have held up well. He’s interesting in an understated way, a guy who tries to get the crowd to clap along by clapping his hands near his waist instead of over his head; no giant arm raises and screams to make noise at this show, just the occasional slight raising of the arms and smiles. It’s a delightful presentation, especially on songs with a more theatrical bent, like “The Sodom and Gomorrah Show.”

Just as interesting as the show itself were the fans in attendance. A look around White Oak would reveal kickers next to soccer moms, men whose idea of being provocative is to unbutton one button too many, and squads of females who wouldn’t look out of place at next week's big Adele shows, all of whom shared a history of club music and club dancing. The guy in the cape looked like he was having just as much fun as the older couple in the blinking LED glasses or the young adults who appreciate pop history. The word "jubilant" comes to mind, even if the show wasn’t a nonstop dance party.

Pet Shop Boys have grown up, and so have their audiences, and that’s why a song like “The Pop Kids” is so great, because it so perfectly captures a mood and a spirit of the past in a way that doesn’t seem crass. It’s proof that even in 2016, Pet Shop Boys can create songs that might not have dynamic range, but hits where it matters most: in the heart…and in the feet.

Personal Bias: The first time “West End Girls” popped up on GTA V, I knew I was in love.

The Crowd: A large chunk of the crowd probably had fond memories of when “West End Girls” was the No. 1 song in the nation. The rest was your average mixture of hipsters and dance-music aficionados.

Overheard In the Crowd: “I’m sorry,” said a lady beside me, apologizing for the fact that she and her friend were smoking so close to the crowd. I was so surprised I had to make mention of it in this post.

Random Notebook Dump: I’m glad that White Oak has ample parking, but whatever material they used to cover Lot D is not entirely unlike those rock paths you see at health spas that are supposed to be good to walk on because they make your feet hurt. Walking to the venue and back to my car did not help me find inner peace. Mostly it was just annoying.

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