Every Gig Counts In Large Amounts - Depeche Mode, Barclays Center, Brooklyn, 21 October 2023
Updated: Oct 30
A Depeche Mode gig is a reminder of four things:
1. It's basically a soundtrack for the last four decades of my life. I bought the 7 inch single of People Are People in 1984 and pretty much everything since then. As we listen to the earlier songs, my mind flicks back through the show to teenage crushes, relationships, friendships remaining and lost, dancing in Venture Scout discos (quite terribly)...they have been a part of my life for a long time.
2. You should never underestimate a band or put them in a box. Who would have thought a fairly effete synth pop band from Essex would be one of the biggest live bands in the world, conquering America and Europe, whilst maintaining credibility and a dark, gothic cool? And still attract an audience of Goths and Jocks? Depeche Mode are huge in a way New Order never quite were, despite the latter's perceived coolness. I reckon Barney would have traded the greater cred for more sales and adoration in a heartbeat.
3. Band members leaving / dying is not the end. Vince Clarke left after one album, their principle songwriter. Martin Gore stepped up and soon was producing music significantly better than that first incarnation. Alan Wilder left after Songs Of Faith and Devotion, having had enough of the madness. He was the man who, although not writing many songs, arranged and shaped their music and gave them that darker punch they needed. Now Andy Fletcher has passed away - although he didn't really play any instruments to any significant level or write songs, he was their talisman, their spokesman, their referee, their mascot, their ballast, their anchor. And of course, Gahan, their preening frontman, nearly died himself after some truly epic dalliances with drugs and carnage in the mid-nineties (didn't he technically die at one point?). They are survivors.
4. They inspire quite obsessive fans - there is a woman in a black and gold top, that looks home made and has Dave Gahan written into the gold - not to my tastes, but she's clearly committed. There is a bar in Tallinn in Estonia dedicated to them, that only plays their music and videos. I've been. The poor guy behind the bar wore headphones - I do not think he was listening to even more Depeche Mode and I doubt he ever wants to hear Depeche Mode again.
The Mode live is still an impressive proposition. Although their US shows these days are not quite at the level they reached in the 80s and the Music For The Masses tour, where they were playing to crowds of 80,000 (as documented in 101). But they are still huge - tonight's gig is sold out, with a capacity of 19,000. They are back in New York next week, playing another sold out show at Madison Gardens (another 18,500 capacity venue).
They have a huge catalogue to draw on (15 albums, 59 singles). They have a great album out, Memento Mori, their best since 2005's Playing The Angel. However, the vast majority of the 23 song set is focused on their back catalogue, Only 4 songs are played from the new album. That's fabulous on one level, it's a such a good show. Lots of hits and sing alongs. But it would have been nice to hear a few more of the new songs - especially People Are Good, Before We Drown and Caroline's Monkey. But they give the crowd what they want and they lap up hit after hit.
Opening with the slow, sinister The Cosmos Is Mine and Wagging T0ngue from the new album, it's a slow start, but then they kick off the hits and pace and game are seriously upped. Dressed like a banker meets spiv, Gahan is off, waistcoated, all pirouettes and Jagger arse-wiggles. He is a huge show-off, and has the crowd eating out of his hands. Sister Of Night from their Ultra album, is dropped, replaced by Policy Of Truth, a much pacier track to keep up the punch they are now packing. Everything Counts, a song that used to close their tours is dispensed early in the set - it's still one of my faves, and it's the first thing that really gets the crowd screaming (though Jesus, some of its lyrics are clunky!).
A quick detour back to the new album with My Favourite Stranger, and then the spotlight switches to Martin Gore, as Gahan leaves the stage. In the 80s Martin was a frustrated guitar player in a pop/industrial synth band, but he has evolved and melded their sound to indulge his guitar god aspirations. But he must also have dreams where he is the front man - he writes the hits, both lyrics and music, and has a beautiful voice that's grown in depth and confidence over the years. He must have sat there many a time, imagining a Mode without Dave...?
He performs his two numbers - Home and a stripped down Strangelove. The former is a big ballad, inspired I understand about coming to terms with his issues with alcohol. It's the first of his moments in the sun and he finishes the song out on the platform that protrudes from the stage, where earlier Gahan was poking his arse out towards adoring fans.
BTW, Is it just me, or is there something a little sad about a 61 year-old man shoving his rear end out to a crowd desperately soliciting an adoring cheer? I accept this sentiment may be driven by the fact I am fairly sure if I did the same, the crowd would certainly not scream lustfully at my backside, even though it's 8 years younger). I digress...
His version of Strangelove is spectacular and gets the biggest singalong of the night. If Martin ever went out on tour, solo, and just played some simple versions of the many great songs he's written, I would be there like a shot. He converts a fairly decent, dancey single into a beautiful, piano driven ode to bdsm (a recurring theme in Gore's lyrics and fair play, there are few huge hitmakers that have pulled that off and been so true to themselves).
Then Gahan returns for the last of the new songs, the lead single, Ghosts Again, co-written by Martin with Richard Butler from The Psychedelic Furs. It's reflective, melancholic, but simultaneously upbeat and catchy - a great trick to pull off. They still can knock out an earworm, that's simple, stark and embeds itself in your brain.
Then we are on the hit train all the way home. Out and out rockers like I Feel You and John The Revelator, 80s classics like Stripped and World In My Eyes, dedicated to their late bandmate, Fletch.
I make a tragic mistake though...I use setlist.fm to keep an eye on the forthcoming songs, so I can time when to run for a quick wee (I am 53, my bladder ain't as strong as it once was). I spot Wrong from 2009's Sounds Of The Universe (their only album I just cannot get on with). As the song approaches, I head down the steps to make my way through the crowd, when instead the opening notes of 1986's Black Celebration kick in...But it's too late, I, and my bladder, have committed. So I run, throwing people out of my way to deliver the fastest ever wee on record, and get back for the bulk of the song. It's the first time they have played it since 2017 and it's dedicated to someone at the end (Larry I think? Is that as in Larry Mullen Jr from U2? Larry has declined to participate in their Vegas shows as it's not rock'n'roll - a true legend). It's magnificent, and I am transported back to school, exams, bad haircuts and first forays into chatting up women, using my impressive knowledge of 80s pop music as a way in...it was literally the only impressive thing about me...happy and embarrassing times.
Of course. Enjoy The Silence brings the show to an end and it's wonderful. It's a shame Gahan never actually sings the chorus though, just shoving the microphone and its stand out to the crowd to do the job for him. I wonder if he's ever sang the chorus live in the last 30 plus years? I wish he would, we'll still singalong. He doesn't need the pavlovian mike stand instruction.
The encore sees both Dave and Martin singing Waiting For The Night, probably my favourite song, and it's beautiful. They voices gel so well; it's a lovely duet. You get the feeling that Fletch dying has brought them closer together. I hope so.
Just Can't Get Enough may be an 80s pop classic, but it jars against the rest of the set. It's a pretty cheesey song to be honest, and though it's good they embrace all their past, something like Photographic or even New Life would fit better and still get the crowd going nuts.
Never Let Me Down Again is simply huge and inspires some quite demented arm waving from the crowd. And Personal Jesus just rocks out, Gahan effortlessly switching between his full on Jagger dance, jazz hands and arm waving like the maddest evangelical preacher - he reminds me of Kenny Everett's Brother Lee Love, It's a masterclass in giving the crowd what they want and it's an ecstatic audience that trundles out of the Barclays Center.
And that's it. Two hours of tight, cool, emotional, timeless music by a band still one fire after 40plus years. Amazing. Thank you to my lovely friend Paul for taking me!
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