07 August 2009

Tour of the Universe - Depeche Mode Live

Longevity is something that is difficult to achieve in the music industry, especially under just one moniker. It is rare that bands survive the seven-year-hitch, let alone continue to produce relevant music after twenty-eight years, but Depeche Mode has done just that. Though I have been critical of their recent music, the reality is that they continue to run circles around most of the industry, and in the live realm there is no exception to this rule. What did I expect before the show? Extended songs, an amazing front man, and a visual show that would wow me away. So I made my way to Madison Square Garden, for the Tour of the Universe, and up the escalators to the nose bleed section (never will I allow a certain someone to get my tickets again), and braced myself for the show.

Peter, Bjorn and John opened the show. Out of Stockholm, I was pleasantly surprised that they were the opening act; five albums into their career, the reality is that they have not broken into the American market in any serious way – which is a pity! As their moniker was projected on the side screens, they comfortably came on the stage; they delivered their own brand of indie rock, with a set highlighted by their 2006 single “Young Folks.” And though they had some audio problem with feedback, they never lost their composure and continued to perform as the techs handled the problem. Overall a solid set and a smart move by the band to tour with Depeche Mode and get the exposure they deserve.

Peter Bjorn and John performing "Young Folks"

Then Depeche Mode hit the stage to the roar of the crowd, going right into three new songs, including the lead single of “Sounds of the Universe,” “Wrong.” As to be expected, the first half of the set would be heavy with new music (five songs from “Sounds of the Universe”), leaving the classics and the unexpected (yes the unexpected for DM) for the end of the set and encores. David Gahan (vocalist) was in full form. He easily dismissed any rumor that he was not in full form after emergency surgery. Not only was he in full form, Gahan proves he is by far the best front man out there at the moment – dare I say the heir apparent of Freddie Mercury.

Along side of David Gahan was by Martin L. Gore (guitar, vocals, keyboards), as Andy Fletcher (keyboards) straddled his keyboards on right side of the stage. Also on the stage were Christian Eigner (drums) and Peter Gordeno (keyboards), while Kerry Hopwood (computers and programming) sat to the side of the stage. I remember the days of Depeche Mode being on a stage with keyboards and the occasional guitar – no drums and pure sequencing. Post “Songs of Faith and Devotion” (when Alan Wilder played some drums live), DM has favored a more “authentic” presence on the stage. “Authentic” in quotation marks because the show is still heavily sequenced – DM is an electronic band! (Here is the million-dollar question: if the show is sequenced, and computers cannot “hear” the drummer, who is really keeping time, Eigner or the computer?)

As many other major bands in this economic downturn, Depeche Mode’s stage was downsized much as it was during the Exciter Tour, but the level of quality was incredible. The stage’s backside was a LED Screen, which had an LED sphere on the top center, peering out like an eye. From typing to distorted images of the band performing, to beautiful scenes to disturbing narratives, the images flashed from beginning to end. (Anton Corbijn filmed some of the images that were projected.) Combine incredible sound quality with breath taking visual elements, while Gahan keeps drawing you into the performance, DM always delivers a show that is memorable.

Some great highlights include “Walking in My Shoes” and “It’s No Good” back to back. The standards “A Question of Time” and “Never Let Me Down Again” made the set list again. Predictably the show was heavy on the “Violator” album, while “Songs of Faith and Devotion” offered up a few songs to the set.

Of course I have my set of criticisms, namely that there was not one song from the first three albums. But what made up for this were three big surprises in the two encores. The first encore included “Master and Servant,” a song that I never thought that Depeche Mode would perform again (and they kept the mid-section of “It’s a lot, it’s a lot” in the falsetto and baritone) and “Strangelove.” It may not have been as big as a surprise as “Master and Servant,” but it was definitely one of those moments when you thought it’s about time you played this jewel again. DM, though, has always concentrated on singles live, so when the final song rolled around, “Waiting for the Night,” the floor fell out from under me. Like their last tour, which ended with “Goodnight Lovers,” DM opted to end with a slow song. It was a disarming moment. You might have expected, even demanded, a ripping, fast-paced, in your face ending to a show, but what you got was a moment that felt personal, as both David Gahan and Martin L. Gore went up the catwalk together, and sung as if directly to the you.

I would not have minded a few more songs, even if it sacrificed some of the extended versions, but if that were to happen, it would not be Depeche Mode on the stage. As always, they delivered a top quality show – I cannot remember ever being disappointed by a DM show, and I have seen them quite a few times. If the tour is about to roll into your town and you have not decided on going or not, try to get tickets immediately. And if they are about to go on sale, log onto your ticket vendor and get those tickets. Of all the “large” bands touring at the moment, DM is the only one that has done things their way all of the time. DM is the only one that has had the integrity not to try to write the “greatest” album of all time – they have never sold out musicianship to commercialism. Instead they continue to concern themselves with craftsmanship and artistry. And after twenty-eight years, Depeche Mode proved to me once again why they are one of the world’s largest bands, why they have survived the test of time, and why you will find it difficult to find another band that can deliver as consistently as they do.

Set List:
1. In Chains
2. Wrong
3. Hole to Feed
4. Walking in My Shoes
5. It’s No Good
6. A Question of Time
7. Precious
8. Fly on the Windscreen
9. Little Soul
10. Home
11. Come Back
12. Policy of Truth
13. In Your Room
14. I Feel You
15. Enjoy the Silence
16. Never Let Me Down Again

17. Stripped
18. Master and Servant
19. Strangelove

20. Personal Jesus
21. Waiting for the Night

Here are some video clips from the show: “Wrong,” “Walking in My Shoes,” “Precious,” “Never Let Me Down Again,” “Personal Jesus,” and “Waiting for the Night.”

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