Monday, August 26, 2013

Reach Out, Touch Faith: Depeche Mode Still Rocks in High Style -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Depeche Mode
w/ Bat for Lashes
First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre
Tinley Park, IL
August 24, 2013

Back in 1986-87, when friends in my freshman dorm were listening to Depeche Mode, I didn't like them much.

Oh, I enjoyed their song, "Blasphemous Rumors," but still in my Scorpions/Ratt/Dokken phase--though also already into Springsteen/U2/R.E.M.--I pooh-poohed the notion of a band that used synthesizers to such a large extent, often in lieu of guitars. Due to what seemed like a preponderance of gothy dirges, I think I even referred to them as Depressed Moan.

In 1990, shortly after I moved to LA, Depeche made news when an autograph session at Tower Records went awry, as the massive crowd wound up breaking windows.

Though the album that remains their biggest and perhaps best--Violator--had just been released, I still didn't know what all the fuss was about.

But as songs such as "Policy of Truth," "Enjoy the Silence" and "Personal Jesus" became hard to avoid and not to like, I eventually warmed up to Depeche Mode and was quite impressed when I first saw them live in 1998 on a greatest hits tour (supporting their The Singles: 1986-1998 album, which is pretty terrific from beginning to end). 

As I discovered then, and again on Saturday night at the First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre--I also saw them in 2005--despite being quickly categorized as an "electronic music band" (Wikipedia), Depeche Mode is a terrific live act and simply a great rock 'n roll band, albeit one with a distinctive, genre-defining sound.

Singer Dave Gahan, a great frontman who is seemingly now well-beyond his heroin-addictive backstory, at times seems to be channeling Freddie Mercury onstage, while chief songwriter Martin Gore now spends most of his time playing guitar, with only occasional keyboard and (separately) lead vocal stints.

Though keyboardist Andy Fletcher rounds out the remaining core members, the band employs a live drummer--Christian Eigner--who was demonstrably superb on Saturday in doing yeoman's work.

A fifth touring member, Peter Gordeno, rotated between keyboards/piano and guitar/bass, and his fine piano-playing supplemented Gore's lovely, plaintive takes on "Shake the Disease" and "Home."

Between the instrumentation and Gahan's vocals, Depeche Mode sounded as good as ever--or perhaps even better--on Saturday night and their performance was well-accompanied by impressive video and lighting displays.

I would say that they are still a band at the height of their powers, except that their recorded material from the 21st century--including their latest album, Delta Machine--largely falls short of their earlier work (at least in terms of catchy singles). 

Though it was proper for them to showcase five of their new songs, at this point to my ears only "Soothe My Soul" really stood boldly among the band's many past glories.

Two new songs, "Welcome to My World" and "Angel" opened the show, and while they kept the large, adoring crowd on their feet, it wasn't until 1993's terrific "Walking in My Shoes" in the third slot that things really kicked into high gear.

"Precious," which remains the band's best song of this millennium, followed, with a pair of classics, "Black Celebration" and "Policy of Truth" keeping things rolling.

It would be going too far to say that a couple more new songs, "Should Be Higher" and "Heaven" were set-deadening duds--and like with Depeche Mode itself, my appreciation could come in time--but the mid-show highlight was clearly Gore's acoustic take on the early "Shake the Disease." 

As the penultimate song in the main set, "Enjoy the Silence" was great, and with an extended intro, "Personal Jesus" was even better.

Gore and Gordano opened the 5-song encore with "Home," followed by the full band coming onstage for "Halo," a song from Violator I didn't much recall. 

"Just Can't Get Enough," the band's first hit, was a joy for a crowd--the pavilion and lawn looked packed,
albeit without many obvious "new fans"--that obviously couldn't, and after "I Feel You," "Never Let Me Down" was a phenomenal closer.

The house lights stayed down--and heavy applause stayed up--long enough to imbue the thought that the band might  return for one more classic ("Blasphemous Rumors," "It's No Good," "In Your Room," "Strangelove," perhaps), but precedent on this tour proved to keep as the lights came up. (With all the video cues and synthesizers, I imagine it might be hard for the band to ad-lib.)

All told, Depeche Mode played for over 2 hours, following a set by Bat For Lashes that sounded nice, though likely much better appreciated in a small club than the sterile open-air environment of the First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre. (My last experience on the lawn here was so acoustically-atrocious that I'll only go if I can get pavilion seats.)

Given that Depeche Mode is a groundbreaking band that has remained active and successful after more than 33 years--only U2 and The Cure come to mind as extant contemporaries--I fail to understand why they've never even been nominated for the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame, let alone inducted.

Not that their electronic and dance stylings should exclude them, but anyone who presumes their being "alternative"--when the word actually meant something--implies anything other than a first-rate rock band with a distinctive sound and a superb live show that has been honed over the long haul hasn't paid sufficient attention. 

In other words, Depeche Mode is one of those increasingly rare, legendary acts that would blow most artists half their age off any stage.

Though I caught on a bit late, I'm glad they're still around, and still in top form (at least live). 

And while I have already seen many stellar concerts in 2013--12 that I've rated @@@@1/2 or @@@@@--even if I have to make my year-end Best Of list a little longer, this show should certainly be on it.

(See Depeche Mode's setlist for 8/24/13 on

Here are a few clips I found on YouTube, of "Walking in My Shoes," "Shake the Disease," "Personal Jesus" and "Never Let Me Down Again":

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