*photo taken by your intrepid blogger with his crappy phone, while standing behind the tallest man whose ever attended a concert, who was naturally sitting right in front of me
One of the first books I read, that wasn’t assigned to me by a high school or college teacher was Jack Kerouac’s On The Road. I don’t know if it was reading that book that led me to an absolute love of driving long distances or that it came to me naturally. I’m lucky in my marriage to the Rock Chick in many ways, but one of the things I love the most is that she too loves the open road. I was also very lucky that when she entered my life, she turned me on to many great bands that were outside my typical blues-rock-guitar construct. Depeche Mode is a great example of one those wonderful bands that the Rock Chick turned me on to. Depeche isn’t just a great band, the more I listen to them, the more I realize they’re also an important band…
When I read that they were touring, which they only seem to do every four years or so, in support of their fabulous new album ‘Spirit’ (reviewed previously, LP Review: Depeche Mode’s ‘Spirit’ – Simply Put, An Immediate Classic ), I felt it was a big enough deal that I was ready to travel to see them if they skipped Kansas City. As it turned out, I was lucky enough they were hitting Denver, Colorado which is easily within driving range. When I approached the Rock Chick about the idea of driving out to see them, she embraced the idea whole-heartedly. So much so, that I didn’t even get to do any of the driving. I sat in the passenger seat and DJ’d. Well, on the way out there I DJ’d… on the way home Monday I was sleeping off what the medical profession calls a “hangover.”
As I mentioned earlier, since 1993’s ‘Songs Of Faith And Devotion,’ Depeche have been on basically the same repeatable cycle. They record/release an album, tour and then take a year or two off for solo projects. They’re like the US election cycle in that each successive album comes out every four years. With gaps like that between albums, when they do tour, it’s kind of a big deal. I am so delighted I got a chance to see lead singer Dave Gahan, guitarist/keyboardist/vocalist Martin Gore and keyboardist Andy Fletcher perform live. (Depeche also have a couple of additional musicians who tour with them, I don’t know if you’d call them “sidemen” as they also play in the studio with them… Christian Eigner plays drums and Peter Gordeno plays additional keyboards and bass guitar…) I actually can’t believe it’s taken me this long in my rock and roll career to see these guys. Of course they were always classified as “synth rock” or “alternative” and it took me a while to discover their deep catalog.
This was a great concert. Any more, when I see a more mature act, who’ve been around for twenty or thirty years, I sometimes just see a greatest hits show. There’s nothing wrong with that but when a band of the stature of Depeche has put out a masterful album like ‘Spirit’ I go into the show hoping to hear quite a bit of the new album – you know, like it was in the old days when bands wanted you to hear the new stuff…. I’m starting to sound like my dad here…. I’m afraid I’m going to start yelling at kids to get off my lawn, but I digress. I needn’t worry about Depeche Mode. To my delight, they played almost half the songs from ‘Spirit.’
When the lights went down, and the enormous video screen behind the band lit up, a wild, colorful display, the band took the stage to a recording of The Beatles’ “Revolution.” When the recording stopped the band launched into one of the great new tracks from ‘Spirit,’ “Going Backwards” which was just a great opening. The band started the song and suddenly I saw a lone silhouette behind the band, in front of the video screen on a hidden walkway… Dave Gahan was in the room, people! What a great entrance! “Going Backwards” was followed by another new ‘Spirit’ song, “So Much Love.” I was so happy that they led off with two new songs. I realized any worry that they’d gloss over the new stuff quickly dissipated.
After that opening duo of songs, they played a great version of “Barrel of a Gun” and then went right into “A Pain That I’m Used To.” ‘Spirit’ can certainly be read as a commentary on the current political conditions in the world. And while Depeche has never been explicitly political, like say, Roger Waters, one could interpret the song selection, like “Corrupt,” or “Everything Counts” as an inspired selection that by itself comments on the current zeitgeist in the world, and especially America. There were so many great moments. “Where’s the Revolution,” the first single from ‘Spirit’ was especially rousing. “Never Let Me Down Again” and “Wrong” were both inspired performances.
The stage, other than the giant video screen behind the band, was fairly spartan. There were two synthesizer stands where Andy Fletcher and Peter Gordeno both stood (Fletcher to the right, Gordeno to the left as you face the stage). There was a third synth stand that they’d pull out when Martin Gore switched from guitar to keyboards. It looked like what I would imagine Kraftwerk’s stage would have looked like in the 70s. Gordeno would occasionally come down and play bass guitar for a song or two, the guy is like a great utility infielder. In the middle of the stage was Christian Eigner’s drum kit… Eigner may be the unsung hero of the show – his drumming was loud and powerful. It really was a great engine that drove the songs into harder, more rocking arrangements. He’s a strong drummer, something every band should have.
Martin Gore was to the left side of the stage and as I mentioned, he alternated between guitar and keyboards. I had a fucking behemoth standing in front of me, so it was hard for me to see how Gore was playing guitar. The guy makes playing look so effortless, yet puts out so much great guitar sound, a bit like the Edge. I don’t think he uses a pic, and I couldn’t see if he was using a bunch of effects pedals. It looks like he’s plucking the strings with just his thumb and forefinger but that can’t be right, can it? He plays a beautiful selection of guitars, including a gorgeous Gretsch White Falcon. I still don’t know how he gets that sound. He took lead vocals on several songs. “Question of Lust” was actually just him singing to the piano accompaniment of Gordeno. It was a lovely song and Gore seemed almost fragile in his delivery. I was worried it would be like when Keith Richards sings with the Stones and everyone would head to the bathroom. Not so when Gore sings, the fan base, and the Pepsi Center was full, was totally embracing of Gore. Everyone loved his lead vocal. From “Question of Lust” they brought the band back and Gore sang “Home” which may be my favorite track with his lead vocals. He’s a talented man.
There are not many people who I would personally describe as a Rock Star. Dave Gahan is on that short list. I’ve always loved his voice, and believe me, his voice was great and strong during the show. Seeing him live, with his charisma on full display was something else. The guy was all over the stage, waving his arms, getting the crowd to clap their hands. He was reaching into the crowd and shaking hands, pointing to people in the stands. He revved the crowd up like few front men know how to do any more. He could belt out the rockier stuff and still capture the nuance of some of the mellower tunes. There was a ramp out into the crowd, to the right side of the stage, where my seat was, and he kept walking down there and the crowd would go nuts. He made the giant arena feel like an intimate club. And talk about “moves like Jagger…” The guy danced, clapped and shook his ass jokingly at the crowd. The Rock Chick looked at me at one point and said, “The Brits really know how to do the front man thing better, in ways American bands just don’t get…” True that, honey. My only complaint is that other than the occasional “thank you” Gahan really didn’t say anything to the crowd. Neither did Gore for that matter… not that musicians have to speak during a show, but I’d have liked a “good evening Denver…” but that’s probably just me.
The crowd was at a fevered pitch as the band left the stage after the main set. Depeche’s music is often described as “dark,” and I’d agree with that (as would likely some of the tattoo’d, goth, provocatively dressed ladies in attendance at the show) but they delivered the music with such a strong sense of joy, it’s hard not to hear the hope and the defiance in this music too. For the encore, Gore came out and did another voice with piano only version of “Somebody” and despite it being a mellow tune the crowd went nuts. Gahan returned and sang “Walking In My Shoes” which was one of my favorite performances. The next song was the only cover of the night. The band did Bowie’s “Heroes” which was the song Dave Gahan sang at an open mic night that landed him in Depeche Mode in the first place. I just love that story. You can draw a pretty straight line from Bowie and his influence to Depeche Mode, just like you can draw a line from Depeche to say, Arcade Fire. It was such a nice tribute, I hope some version of that song gets released.
They finished with an almost industrial, hard rock version of “I Feel You” that was so strong it almost sounded like they were channeling Nine Inch Nails. They wrapped the evening with “Personal Jesus,” which was perfect. And with that, a wonderful two hour and fifteen minute show had come to a close. I’d been on my feet dancing behind a giant for over two hours but I felt great.
The principal members of Depeche have been through so much in their history: Martin had issues with alcoholism and seizures; Fletcher had to drop out of a tour for a depression he described as “mental instability”; Gahan of course, overcame heroin addiction so bad he actually died for a few minutes like Nikki Sixx… To see them now delivering such a forceful, joyful evening of rock and roll is a real treasure. If you’re lucky enough to be in a city that they’re playing, buy the ticket. I must admit I’m still baffled they chose to play Salt Lake City, not that there’s anything wrong with SLC, and not play Kansas City, but hey, I love the road too…