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It’s riveting to watch whipped-thin Depeche Mode frontman Dave Gahan, now 51 and totally ripped, work a stage. With his indefatigable mix of twirls and stripper-roebics — both, with game participation from his mic stand — the pocket-sized Gahan exudes a natural, if mildly goofy, showmanship.
This, and Depeche Mode’s sprawling résumé of dark synth-pop gems, is why the group has consistently sold-out stadiums and arenas. It’s also why the Mode — whose pre-EDM command of synths has influenced a wide swath of artists including the Arcade Fire, Shakira, and even new-wave legend Gary Numan — is the rare act to attract a crowd so compellingly diverse in age and ethnicity. Those over 35 may notice that Gahan’s moves have slowed down a bit, but the singer’s devotion to making fans wave their hands in the air, continues to be nothing short of admirable.
Did we also mention it’s practically a miracle that Gahan — who flat-lined for a full two minutes after taking a speedball in 1996 — is able to walk, much less remember the lyrics to any song? It’s a deliberate move when he discards his leather vest, to deliver the murky, tormented “Barrel of a Gun” shirtless. The single recounts his trip to The Other Side, and here it’s supplemented with unabashed baring-my-soul/welcome-to-the-gun-club effect.
We’ll forgive Gahan for any acts of bravado: He and his partners in sound — principal songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Martin Gore, and keyboardist Andrew Fletcher — deserve to congratulate themselves. Because transporting fans to places at once dusky and euphoric is something Gahan and his bandmates have done adeptly for 30-some years now. (Be sure to rewatch their 1989 long-form concert movie Depeche Mode 101 for further evidence/stellar hairdos.)
And let’s face it, most the audience is here for PG — or pre-guyliner — Gahan, before he discovered heroin and grunge and the questionable aesthetics of greasy, long hair. Depeche Mode realizes this. (For the record, Gahan is wearing guyliner tonight; it contrasts nicely with Gore’s body glitter.) Though reflective and sonically curious, the group’s pit-stops in Bummerville — like the slow-start succession of post-Violator compositions “Welcome to My World,” “Angel,” and “Walking in My Shoes,” plus Gore’s lovely cabaret-esque interludes with songs such as “Home” — beg reminiscence about less mercurial synth-times past. Sure, the curious assortment of video-screen graphics accompanying each cut added entertainment value (think pensive dogs, contorted nude models, lots of triangles, artful quick-edits of real-time footage). But the band proved judicious by peppering crowd-riling oldies such as “Black Celebration” and “Just Can’t Get Enough” into the stop-and-start setlist.
The climax: a mini-mixtape of classics that kicked-off with the upbeat sing-along “A Question of Time,” flash-forwarded to a sprawling “Enjoy the Silence,” and exploded into a swaggering “Personal Jesus.” Wisely, Depeche Mode ended on the expansive fan-favorite “Never Let Me Down Again.”
That some fans were left asking, “What about ‘Strangelove’?” “What about ‘Master and Servant’?” “What about ‘Stripped’?” — only underscores the sheer breadth of catalog that Depeche Mode is working with. And sometimes, we learned, that can be a mixed blessing.
Welcome to My World
Walking in My Shoes
Policy of Truth
Should Be Higher
Barrel of a Gun
The Child Inside
But Not Tonight
Soothe My Soul
A Pain That I’m Used To
A Question of Time
Enjoy the Silence
Just Can’t Get Enough
I Feel You
Never Let Me Down Again
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