Long before Morrissey was fronting The Smiths and writing lamenting tunes for alienated boys and girls in the mid-80's, Martin Gore — lead songwriter of Britain's Depeche Mode — already had that market cornered. Although sadness, loneliness and insecurity weren't the only topics Gore poured into his compositions, Mode fans certainly reveled in his unique brand of raw emotion and earnestness since he took over the writing tasks on the band's sophomore album way back in 1982. [Text by Gabe; photos by Tracy.]
What's more amazing is that the synth-pop outfit has managed to buck trends, times, changing tastes and a fickle music-buying population and remained one of the most popular bands on the globe. Thanks to a massive amount of hit records and an unfaltering appeal with alternative fans, goths and mainstream music lovers, Depeche Mode is clearly at the head of the class when it comes to bands whose rise to fame is rooted in the 1980's and has miraculously retained their popularity and their street cred with said sects.
A sweltering, stormy Saturday night was no obstacle for the near-sell out crowd of fans who gathered at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheater to see the band's local stop on their current tour. Opening with "Welcome to My World," the first cut from their most current album, Delta Machine, Depeche Mode looked and sounded great. As elaborate lighting rigs flooded the outdoor venue and a massive screen at the rear of the stage flashed images, lead singer Dave Gahan took the center spotlight, clad in black blazer, vest and slacks, and began on his slow but steady path to mesmerizing the adoring crowd. While the decision to open with a slow, plodding number might not have been the best way to get rowdy concert-goers to their feet, it made no difference. The mostly 40-somethings who came to relive their brooding, trench coat-wearing days seemed poised to enjoy themselves no matter what.
Along with longtime band members Gore and keyboardist Andy Fletcher, the core members were accompanied by an additional keyboardist and a drummer who helped to flesh out the sounds coming from the stage.
Sporting flashy silver bondage pants, matching jacket and vest, Gore is, in my opinion, the heart and soul of the band. Showing off an impressive array of gorgeous Gretsch hollow-bodied guitars and a snazzy, sparkly star-shaped one (that looked like it could have been borrowed from P-Funk wild man Bootsy Collins), Gore's vocals are virtually unchanged from a 30-plus year career of singing. As is traditional, Gore took his turn at the center of the stage and took over the lead vocals for a few numbers. Most impressive and transcendent was his version of the 1986 favorite "But Not Tonight." Accompanied only by acoustic piano, Gore poured a mountain of feeling and heart into the reading and the crowd responded well, continuing to chant along the refrain of the tune long after it had ended.
Mixing in newer material with older numbers, Mode sailed through a 130-minute set that seemed to please most of those in attendance. While some mutterings were heard afterwards about the band's decision to not travel back far enough by omitting material from their beginnings, the inclusion of "Just Can't Get Enough," their bouncy synth-pop classic from 1981 debut Speak & Spell was a welcomed nugget during the encore. Flanked by mega-hits and DM staples, "Enjoy the Silence" and "Personal Jesus" — which, not surprisingly received the loudest ovations of the night — the show closed with another Gore solo number ("Home") and a newly arranged, slowed-down, more brooding version of "Halo" from the band's hugely successful 1990 album, Violator. Closing the night with "Never Let Me Down," another Mode hit single, Gahan coaxed the audience into spontaneous arm waving as has been a traditional part of the song's live performance. As a sea of arms swung from side to side in the steamy night, it seemed apparent that for those diehard Depeche Mode fans, there's no end in sight to the band's place in synthesizer-driven, dark dance-pop history. As precursors of electronic dance music, Depeche Mode are clearly veterans of their game and show no signs of ending their reign.
Opening the show was the much-lauded Bat For Lashes, the project of super-talented British songstress Natasha Khan, joined by a five-piece band that included a cellist. An obvious student of PJ Harvey and Siouxsie Sioux, Khan — sporting a shimmering red lamé dress — showed off her operatic, lilting vocals during an impressive 45-minute set of haunting, atmospheric, sweeping tunes that seemed to win over some new fans and please the ones already familiar with the material off her three stellar albums.
Welcome to My World
Walking in My Shoes
Policy of Truth
Should Be Higher
Barrel of a Gun
The Child Inside (Martin Gore-lead vocals)
But Not Tonight (Martin Gore-lead vocals)
Soothe My Soul
Pain That I'm Used To
Question of Time
Enjoy The Silence
Home (Martin Gore-lead vocals)
Just Can't Get Enough
I Feel You
Never Let Me Down