September 6, 2013
The reason I didn’t review the latest Depeche Mode album, Delta Machine, is because Stereogum summed it up better than I ever could:
At this point, Depeche Mode are pretty much new-wave synthpop’s Rolling Stones. They have such a deep and unfuckwithable catalog of hits that they could continue touring arenas until their bodies just completely give up. Nobody really needs them to keep recording new music, and yet they keep doing it.
Plus, I’d have to actually listen to the entire album. Despite the fact that they’re one of my favorite groups, I haven’t been able to make it through a Depeche Mode record since 1997’s Ultra. The last four albums (Exciter, Playing the Angel, Sounds of the Universe, and Delta Machine) have all blurred together- kind of like the majority of Al Pacino’s post-Scent of a Woman career. You probably didn’t rush to see him recreate Frank Slade in Devil’s Advocate, Gigli or more recently Phil Spector, but if Scarface, Serpico, or Godfather I or II are on TV, you’ll not only watch the whole thing, but you’ll remember why you loved ol’ Al so much in the first place.
That seemed to be the attitude of most of the fans who packed into the Barclays Center on Friday to see Depeche Mode perform the first of two New York-area concerts (they played Jones Beach on Sunday, September 8). Forgettable and undistinguished tracks from Delta Machine made up nearly a third of the setlist- and were a necessary evil in order to hear the band play classics like “Personal Jesus,” “Enjoy the Silence,” and “Never Let Me Down Again.” Call it the “Depeche Mode Tax.”
That’s not to say that the new songs were awful (although I nearly fell asleep during Martin Gore’s solo rendition of “The Child Inside” – track #8 on Delta Machine). Lead single “Heaven” did a decent job punching above its weight (during the glory years, “Heaven” would have been a b-side – at best). “Welcome to My World” was a solid choice for an opener if for no other reason than its title. “Soothe My Soul” is catchy and even has a similar beat and chord progression as “Personal Jesus.” In fact, during the intro to the song, several fans thought the band was doing “Personal Jesus” and started going crazy. Once they realized what song they were actually doing, they calmed down considerably.
And that, in a nutshell, summed up the show. The loudest ovations were reserved for the older classics (and as a measure of how old most Depeche Mode fans are, tracks from 1993’s Songs of Faith and Devotion – the last album with Alan Wilder – count as “older classics” now). While the band did perform some latter-era songs like “Precious” and “A Pain That I’m Used To,” the bulk of the older material came from the band’s best-selling album, Violator. Several other older albums were represented on the setlist including two songs from Songs of Faith and Devotion, two from Ultra, and three from Black Celebration, as well as “Just Can’t Get Enough,” the upbeat dance pop song written by founding member Vince Clarke that sticks out like a sore thumb from their discography.
Dave Gahan, in various states of dress and undress, tried his best to get the crowd going during the newer songs. Still a force of nature at 51 years of age (although he’s probably closer to 70, given his drug-fueled lifestyle in the mid-90s), Gahan owned the crowd as he sashayed and strutted across the stage like a cross between Freddie Mercury and WWE Hall of Famer Shawn Michaels. Possibly the best frontman in music, Gahan not only kept the crowd in the palm of his hand, but also acted as the glue that held the band together – at least on stage. Gahan went out of his way to high-five, hug, point to and even have fun with Martin Gore, Andrew Fletcher and touring musicians Peter Gordeno and Christian Eigner. During “Just Can’t Get Enough,” Gahan, with tongue firmly in cheek, allowed Fletch to take the spotlight as he performed a keyboard solo that would have made Ray Manzarek proud. Okay, he just played the four notes that comprise the bass part for “Just Can’t Get Enough” over and over again.
Still, it was the most music Fletch played all night. The recipient of the biggest free ride in music since Andrew Ridgeley, Sid Vicious, or the old guy from Arrested Development (the band, not the show), Fletch spent most of the evening dancing awkwardly, pointing to the crowd, playing air guitar and clapping his hands. The man has the best job in the world and clearly embraces his role as the butt-monkey of the group. And why wouldn’t he? He makes tons of money and all he has to do is pose with Dave and Martin at photoshoots, play a few notes on the keyboard, and dance so poorly that he makes Elaine Benes seem like a future champion on “Dancing With the Stars.” Plus, he gets to watch Depeche Mode concerts from the best seat in the house. Who wouldn’t want to be him?
The show also had the requisite Martin Gore solo mini-set. Besides the aforementioned “Child Inside,” Gore performed a well-received stripped-down version of “Home,” the third single from Ultra. He brought down the house, however, with his rendition of one of the more obscure Depeche Mode singles- 1986’s “But Not Tonight.” Gore may not have Gahan’s showmanship and stage presence, but his gentle tenor provides a nice counterweight to Gahan’s thumping baritone. Plus, songs often mean more when performed by the writer.
While many fans may have been disappointed by the emphasis on Delta Machine, the price was well worth it to those fans who had been waiting their whole lives to hear the band perform its classics. In keeping with their closing number, Depeche Mode know that, as long as they do their hits, they’ll never let their fans down again.
Welcome to My World
Walking in My Shoes
Policy of Truth
Should Be Higher
Barrel of a Gun
The Child Inside
But Not Tonight (Acoustic: Sung by Martin)
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