Concert Review: Depeche Mode, Tulsa, OK May 29th, 2018. Even Better the 2nd Time!

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*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.

 

 

LP Review: Depeche Mode’s ‘Spirit’ – Simply Put, An Immediate Classic

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It’s early, but the album of the year may have come out on St Patrick’s Day this year… namely, Depeche Mode’s new amazing album, ‘Spirit.’ I’ve waited to post this review because I was so blown away I wanted to spend a good long time with this record to make sure I wasn’t overstating that… I am not.

During the 80’s and 90’s I was still focused on more traditional classic rock. I was into blues rock, heavy metal and hard rock (well, and Fleetwood Mac, blame Stevie Nicks). Sure, in the 90’s I stretched out to grunge, punk and “alternative rock,” but it was from the same school of music. Dark, synth-rock with songs containing themes that seemed to indicate behaving very badly with drugs or a lover could be deeply seductive and alluring hadn’t punctured my consciousness quite yet. I don’t know, maybe I’m a late bloomer….Heaven knows, I was familiar with that ethos, but those records are sealed. With that backdrop, I will admit I wasn’t that into Depche Mode. I knew who they were, a few tracks had penetrated my more “traditionalist” rock bubble, “I Feel You,” or “Personal Jesus.” Most likely the stuff that had distinctive videos were the songs I was familiar with.

All that changed when the Rock Chick entered my life. Depeche was always a favorite of hers. She was slow to turn me onto them, telling me one time, “you have to be in the right mood for Depeche…” Maybe she just thought I wasn’t ready yet… I was immediately pulled into Depeche by the seductive voice of Dave Gahan, the group’s front man and lead singer. However, just as seductive and alluring were the musical soundscapes guitarist/songwriter Martin Gore created. The 1990 LP ‘Violator’ is largely seen as their “magnum opus,” their creative high point. I will say, the latter half of these guys career has been more fruitful than most bands with half their lifespan. Their latter work is one of the reasons I started B&V.

In this millennium, 2001’s ‘Exciter’ was a fantastic record, almost on par with ‘Violator.’ While their ’05 LP ‘Playing the Angel’ wasn’t as good, it contained one of my all time favorites songs (that’s songs, not just Depeche Mode songs) “Precious.” That song never gets old. I enjoyed ‘Songs of the Universe’ but was really into ‘Delta Machine’ which introduced a more bluesy element to their music, especially Martin Gore’s guitar sound. Martin doesn’t get the credit he deserves as a guitarist. His playing is very atmospheric, almost like U2’s the Edge. Needless to say, excitement was running high when I heard they would be returning in 2017 with this new LP ‘Spirit.’ It will become cliche, I think, in most reviews to say that ‘Spirit’ is “the best DM album since ‘Violator.'” In my opinion ‘Spirit’ may be just as good as ‘Violator’ which is pretty amazing for a group this far in.

We live in very troubled political times, from Trump in the US to Brexit to Nationalist movements across Europe. I wondered if, like the Sixties which were tremendously turbulent, music and art would incorporate that unrest. I don’t have to wonder about that any more. ‘Spirit’ is nothing if not a political broadside. The turbulence in the world seems to have really inspired Depeche. Although, this is not a totally political record. Don’t be fooled, there are still some great, rocky, sexy tunes.

The first 1/3 of the album is a fantastic, political statement. “We’re Going Backwards,” followed by “Where’s the Revolution” set the tone right off the bat. Both songs have an almost martial feeling, like you could turn it up and march in the streets to the music. Yes, indeed there will be dancing at this Revolution. “The Worst Crime” could be interpreted as an indictment of those of us out there who didn’t get involved in the political process and allowed some of this unprecedented shit to happen. “Scum” is a great guitar/distorted challenge, “Pull the trigger” growls Gahan in a distorted voice. It’s a great song. “Eternal” reads to me like a father promising a son to protect and love him forever, no matter what comes next… or maybe he’s talking to a lover. The point’s the same, we need to stick together. “Cover Me” is another great song that builds and builds. When, in “Cover Me,” Gahan sings, “We better take cover, will you cover me…” it sends chills up my spine.

“You Move” is just a great Depeche song that’ll get you moving… It drops the political themes and gets you up on your feet. “Poison Heart” is a great upbeat break-up song, if there is such a thing. “So Much Love” can be seen as defiance from the downtrodden, “you can’t shake me, you can despise me,” or just a statement of hope, “there is so much love in me…” The track near the end, “Poorman” picks up the political and the personal again, with the lyrics “Corporations get the breaks, keeping almost everything they make,” but makes it personal, when pointing out the Poorman of the title, “he’s on the street, laying in the snow and sleet.”

This is heady, politics mixed with personal, music. There are so many layers lyrically and musically. It’s truly a work of brilliance. The political themes of the record come off with an almost joyful defiance. The only songs where I truly hear despair, or perhaps a flagging of hope, are “Eternal” and the final track, “Fail.” I look at those songs as almost a warning to not give up the fight.

When most people think of music like this they think of Dylan with an acoustic guitar and searing harmonica. This couldn’t be farther than that. It still has the smart, thought provoking lyrics but with that great Depeche template of moody guitars and swelling synths. I can’t say enough about the interplay of Gahan’s beautiful voice and Martin Gore’s atmospheric guitar playing. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention keyboardist extraordinaire Andrew Fletcher.

I was somewhat surprised to hear some of these dark political themes on a Depeche album… but when I think about their history of dark music with heavy themes, maybe this shouldn’t have been such a surprised. Maybe the darkness in the world just finally caught up with Depeche Mode.

This is a very strong recommendation to buy this record immediately. Play it loud, groove to the music but be sure to listen closely to the lyrics…

It’s a dark ride out there folks. Stick together and take care of each other… “The train is coming, so get on board…”

Depeche Mode: “Where’s The Revolution,” The First Single From ‘Spirit’

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 “Who’s making your decisions, you or your religion, Your government, your country, you patriotic junkies” – “Where’s The Revolution” Depeche Mode

Finally a new album in 2017 I can get excited about, Depeche Mode’s upcoming March 17th release, ‘Spirit.’ I won’t lie, I was beginning to think no interesting music was going to be released this year. In my defense, it’s been pretty grim around here this year…

It was the Rock Chick who turned me onto Depeche Mode, like so many other bands. She really has phenomenal musical tastes. I was wandering the house one Saturday, early in the marriage, indentured like my step daughter, to clean the house. On Saturdays my wife is a lot like Strother Martin’s character in the movie Cool Hand Luke. She’d assemble us in the living room and force us to dust and vacuum things. I can still almost hear her instructing us, “What we have here, is a failure to clean up after yourselves…” 

The one caveat to all of this “cleaning” was that I was allowed to choose and play whatever music I wanted to. I wrote that into my wedding vows… The Rock Chick and her daughter went upstairs when I stumbled upon a double Depeche CD entitled, ‘The Singles, 1986-1998.’ Intrigued, I dropped the first disc into the stereo. Almost immediately, the Rock Chick came bounding down the stairs to veto my selection (which actually happened more times than I’d care to admit). “You have to be in the right mood for Depeche…” she exclaimed and then almost as suddenly disappeared.

After that I went back to ignoring them. A few years later, over some wine, my wife finally put the greatest hits package back on the stereo. I was surprised at how much I liked these guys. They’re definitely “alternative rock” and synth based, which is outside my blues-based template but they’re just great. The thing that jumped out at me initially was Dave Gahan’s voice. The guy is a top notch crooner. The lyrics are also great. Martin Gore, the principle song writer includes a lot of darkness, which appeals to me, especially late at night drinking bourbon.

For Christmas this year, Santa brought the Rock Chick the blu-ray, ‘Depeche Mode: Video Singles Collection’ and it spent the holiday season on high rotation. I was amazed that, like the Stones, Depeche has remained very close to a basic sound, but have been able to do so much, so differently with that sound. Watching their videos got me primed and ready for this new, upcoming album.

I’ll save my praise for their latter day LPs for my full album review, but needless to say, their last few albums, dating back to 2001’s ‘Exciter’ have been very strong LPs and if you’re a fan of their earlier work, I advise you to check those records out post haste. This is a band that unfolds for you like a flower… I will say, their latter day work is an example of why I started BourbonAndVinyl in the first place, to put a spotlight on veteran groups making outstanding music. You’re not likely to hear this great new music on any radio, so I need to spotlight it for you here…but I digress.

I had also been a huge fan of Gahan’s solo work with the Soulsavers (reviewed in an earlier post on B&V) but even so I was excited to read last year that Depeche were in the studio recording a new album. The results of that recording, as mentioned earlier, comes out next month. For now, we have the fantastic new single “Where’s the Revolution.”

I wondered if the current political climate was going to effect art and music in a similar way the turbulent late 60s and early 70s music was effected. For example, I had heard U2, who have mostly completed their new album, were heading back into the studio with some new songs inspired by the current political climate. I have to ask that question, whether today’s politics are going to effect music, no longer… “Where’s The Revolution” is a political broad side. I love the lyrics.

It starts off as mid tempo in the verse, Gahan’s voice over syncopated synth and percussion. The song has a galloping feel, almost like a march, as an underpinning.  When the chorus kicks in, with tortured guitar, the song gets louder. You can feel the call to arms when Gahan howls, “where’s the revolution, come on people, you’re letting me down…” His vocal is urgent, slinky and sexy all at a the same time. All the elements of this song come together to make this a classic Depeche Mode tune. The Rock Chick has it on high rotation on the Sonos… This is the most political song I’ve heard Depeche ever do. When the song starts to wind down, they slow it down a bit and Gahan issues his invitation, “the train is coming, the train is coming, get on board, get on board…” Oh, yes this is a train I wanna be on.

Let the “Revolution” begin today people… “the engine is humming, the engine is humming, get on board, get on board…” Oh, I’m on board alright… All the way to the finish line.

I urge everyone to check this new single out. It gets a high B&V recommendation. I hope the rest of the album is this strong… If recent Depeche history is any indicator, I think listening to this new record when it comes out on St Patrick’s Day is going to be very special…

It’s dark out there people. Pour something strong, dark and murky, and “get on board.”

Cheers!