*Picture of Dave Gahan’s silhouette taken by your intrepid blogger
What a difference good seats make at a concert. Nine months ago the Rock Chick and I jumped in the car and drove to see the amazing Depeche Mode, live in concert (Concert Review: Depeche Mode, Denver, August 25th, 2017: Mind Blown!). Unfortunately for us, we stood behind two men whose nicknames should be The Redwood Forest People. Those bastards were tall. The Rock Chick is only 5’5″ and even though I too am tall, these monsters made it difficult for even me to see the show. Don’t get me wrong, I loved that concert, but sitting on the floor can be dicey. Last night’s Depeche show in Tulsa, where our seats were lower level (first row, no one in front us!) stage left, where the walkway out into the crowd was, was such a better experience. Lesson learned… I’m past the need to be on the floor.
I saw that Depeche Mode was coming back for a second U.S. leg of their acclaimed tour in support of their latest album, Spirit (LP Review: Depeche Mode’s ‘Spirit’ – Simply Put, An Immediate Classic) and I sprung into action. We had a choice to make. We could fly up to Chicago for this upcoming Friday’s show or… less traditionally, drive to Tulsa for last night’s show. Going into Oklahoma to see Depeche felt like I was parachuting behind enemy lines to go to a rave at a gay club. Even the speed limit signs glare at you with their clear message: “No Tolerance.” My entire drive was spotted with churches on one side of the road and casinos on the other… one foot on the gas, one foot on the brake, Oklahoma! I’d never actually been to Tulsa, and navigating it’s downtown 1-way streets almost drove me to a nervous breakdown. I will say, the BOK Center, where the concert was is an amazing facility.
Seeing these guys a second time on this tour, from the aforementioned better vantage point, allowed me to step back a bit and take in some of the finer details of the show. I was literally so blown away by the aural and visual spectacle in Denver, and yes the fan boy thrill of seeing these guys for the first time, I’m not sure I was emotionally prepared to absorb it all. Last night confirmed to me how great this band is. The opening sequence, pictured above, where Gahan enters the stage above the rest of the band (Martin Gore on guitars/keyboards, the unflappable Andrew Fletcher on keyboards with Christian Eigner on drums and Peter Gordino on keyboards and bass) backlit by a multicolored Pollack-esque painting was visually stunning. The opening track, like last time, was “Going Backwards” from Spirit. It’s a politically charged song, but the thing I didn’t notice in Denver, as the song goes on, the colors from behind Gahan slowly disappeared until the screen was black with 1 white dot in the center… It was a strong visual accompaniment to the song.
By the time Gahan reached the front of the stage he was in full force. Part preying mantis, part Karate kid, part whirling Dervish, part cheerleader (the man shot off a t-shirt cannon at one point), part ass-shaker, he is the consummate front man. And what a voice. He and Martin Gore harmonize so well together. And speaking of Martin Gore, the man takes a minimalist (for the most part) approach to the guitar but coaxes exotic notes out of that thing. Fletcher is all over his multi-keyboard set up. And while we’re at it, Christian Eigner is a great drummer. That guy worked his ass off. And Peter Gordino, on the few songs he came out from behind the keyboards to play bass, treated that instrument like a lead instrument. The band was, as you would expect, 9 months and several legs into a tour, so much tighter this time around. They’re really hitting their stride. And the chemistry on that stage was fabulous – it’s so nice to see a band who actually, and this may be cheesy, like each other. They’d smile at one another in passing, Gahan stuck his tongue out at Fletcher who laughed and returned the gesture. Almost a year in and these guys are having a blast. Gahan would always come out and ask the crowd to show their appreciation after Gore had taken his turn on lead vocals. Truly a gracious band.
But smiles and fun were not the only part of what was happening. Depeche Mode played a fierce 2 hour selection of songs, and while they don’t seem political in nature, ended up sounding like a decree. “Barrel of A Gun” near the beginning of the show was strong and strident. They followed that with “A Pain That I’m Used To” and the tone was set. I was thrilled that one of my absolute favorites, “Precious” from Playing The Angel made the set list, a definite personal highlight. That was followed by a great reading of “World In My Eyes.” It was during the Spirit cut, “Cover Me” that the Rock Chick turned to me and said out loud what I was already thinking, “This crowd seems a little dead.”
And while the two men beside me were having the time of their lives – those cats made the show for me – they danced to every song, sweating like they were on a summer jog, they knew every word and sang loudly – that energy seemed sadly confined to my row. The soccer moms behind me sat the whole time. Despite a somewhat less than involved crowd, or perhaps because of it, it felt like Depeche Mode took it up a notch. I think the true pros are like that… if an audience doesn’t respond, they work harder to make them do so. Gahan in particular seemed possessed. Denver was a sell-out and a very appreciative audience. It seems like last night Depeche played a little harder. I’m probably reading into it, it’s more likely that since they’ve been out playing for so many months, they’re rocking it up more.
By the end of the main set, Depeche was killing it. “Where’s the Revolution,” which not surprisingly didn’t get the response that I’d thought it would, despite Gahan’s crouching down with his fist in the air… I guess no revolution is forthcoming in Oklahoma. That great song was followed by the one pop moment of “Everything Counts,” which did ignite the crowd. Then they hit the crowd with an almost metal sounding rendition of “Stripped.” The band put their all into that one. “Enjoy the Silence” and “Never Let Me Down Again” were both fantastic jams, with Gahan racing down the catwalk in front of me, exhorting the crowd to get up and clap those hands.
As like last time, the encore started with a beautiful Gore ballad, this time “I Want You Now.” At this point, Gahan returned to the stage and they launched into “Walking In My Shoes.” I hate to say this, but I think they lost the Tulsa crowd at this point. Many of the songs had visual accompaniment behind the band… in some cases, videos of the band played. On the video screen for “Walking In My Shoes,” we followed a young boy with long hair, who gets out of bed as he gets ready for his day. It becomes clear that this is not a boy but a transgender woman. She puts on make up and high heels. It was a poignant video accompaniment to the song. I couldn’t help but sneak a glance at the shocked faces in BOK Arena. Maybe it opened some minds… hard to tell. After that the band rocked “A Question of Time” and ended with a flourishing jam of “Personal Jesus.” The last portion of the show saw some of the most aggressive guitar playing I’ve seen Gore do… he was rocking out.
I staggered from the arena even more impressed than the first time I’d seen them in Denver. The Rock Chick leaned over to the gentlemen beside us and said, “First time seeing Depeche?” The guy said, “I can’t believe I’m 40 and am just now seeing them…” Indeed, my friend, indeed. Everybody should see this band. They’re doing some of their absolute best, most important work.
Back at the hotel, the bar was schizophrenic. There was one corner where a dark cloud seems to have floated in… I heard angry remarks and arguing. One guy at the bar was bitching about U2’s recent show there… and their politics. There were a few folks with shaved heads, leather and black concert t’s on and they were clearly elated. I wanted to tell some of the people in that bar they needed to lighten up. Rock and Roll is a big tent, baby, and everybody is welcome.