Monday, June 04, 2018

Just Can't Get Enough: With Astonishing Audiovisual Feast, Depeche Mode Puts Me in Delectable Mood -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Depeche Mode
w/ opening act EMA
June 1, 2018
United Center, Chicago

To have seen Depeche Mode at the United Center a week after seeing U2 at the same venue puts an interesting wrinkle or two on--if nothing else--how I've opted to begin this review.

Originating in the late '70s--U2 in Dublin, Depeche Mode near London--the bands released their debut albums with a year of each other (in 1980 & '81 respectively), would achieve huge worldwide popularity within the next decade and have largely retained it all these years later.

U2's four members have remained intact since 1980, and while DM has had some lineup changes, singer Dave Gahan, guitarist/keyboardist/songwriter Martin Gore and keyboardist Andy Fletcher remain from that year.

Yet while I became a big fan of U2's anthemic rock by the mid-'80s, despite Depeche's fandom among high school and college classmates I was far more latent in my affinity for their electronic, dance-infused rock. (The idea of a rock bank largely devoid of guitars was averse for my Scorpions-loving teen self.)

But I've now loved them since around 1998, when I first made a point to see them in concert, and don't know why--unlike U2, who was elected in their first year of eligibility--they remain shunned by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, however nebulous that institution may be as an arbiter of musical greatness.

Depeche Mode has had hit singles, #1 albums and continues to fill football stadiums around the world (though more so arenas and amphitheaters in the U.S. of late).

And while perhaps never critical darlings--and rock critics seem to largely control the nominating and voting process for the Rock Hall--Depeche Mode were rather groundbreaking, in daring to bring dance beats to rock music.

Anyway, though I would classify myself a far bigger fan of U2, and gave their pair of UC shows @@@@@--I attended both and have now seen them 22 times--I actually liked Depeche Mode's concert a good bit more.

This despite sitting almost as far from the stage as one can get.

Since 1998, I also saw DM in 2005 and 2013, and had tickets to their show last year at the Hollywood Casino Amphitheater in south suburban Tinley Park, but was bummed when I had to bow out due to a bout with something following an otherwise wondrous trip to India.

So it wasn't a secret to me just how good a live band Depeche Mode is. 

Though a dance beat is often prominent, they feature a terrific touring drummer in Christian Eigner, and rock a lot harder than the uninitiated might imagine. (Another keyboardist, Peter Gordeno, rounds out the stage lineup.)

And at 56, Gahan remains a fantastic singer, one who clearly learned the art of stage performance from such greats as Mick Jagger, Freddie Mercury and David Bowie. 

Friday's Chicago show on the band's Global Spirit Tour began with "Going Backwards," the opening track on the fine 2017 album, Spirit

Referencing our societal regression--"We are not there yet / We have not evolved / We have no respect / We have lost control" are just the opening lyrics--the song instantly dispelled any notion that Depeche Mode is just a feel-good dance band. (Heck, 1984's "People Are People" is as resonant as ever, though the band no longer plays it.)

I would have welcomed hearing more new songs than the three played, but really love "It's No Good" so can't complain that it took the second slot that Spirit's fine "So Much Love" held back in August. (See the Depeche Mode Chicago setlist from June 1, and note that nearly a third has changed from the Tinley Park show last August.)

I acutely enjoyed every song played, and give big props to whoever handled the sound design. Especially near the back and top of the big arena--home to the Chicago Bulls and Blackhawks--Eigner's thick drumbeats could easily have sounded muddy, but they were consistently sharp and thunderous.

The propulsive "A Pain That I'm Used To" sounded tremendous, as did the poignant "Precious," both from 2005's Playing the Angel.

As always, it was nice to see Gore take his turn on lead vocals on "The Things You Said," "Home" and later--to open the encore--"I Want You Now," especially as these plaintive tunes provided a nice change of pace from the higher-charged repertoire sung by the whirling and twirling Gahan.

So you had great songs, strong acoustics, a bit of social stridency--including "Where's the Revolution," which had me asking the same question--and a well-paced setlist, from a veteran band that has clearly mastered the art of concert performance.

But this was a brilliant visual feast as well, with great lighting effects and some truly exceptional videos to augment certain songs.

"In Your Room" was backed by a video that initially seemed it might be depicting a sexual assault, but instead turned into a delightful ballet. (You can see it in this YouTube video from a prior show.)

And later, "Walking in My Shoes"--which I've long imagined Gore wrote as something of an exculpation for his pal Gahan's once notorious drug problems--featured a film clip depicting a heavily made-up Bowiesque musician likely to be loved onstage yet harassed (if not worse) on the way there.

While I never mind a bit of politics with my rock 'n roll--especially if I'm in agreement--I appreciate Depeche Mode powerfully getting their points across without ever actually verbalizing them. 

Sure, there were many great songs not played that I would have loved to have heard--"Policy of Truth," "Just Can't Get Enough," "Strangelove," personal favorite "Blasphemous Rumours"--but this bespeaks the depth of Depeche Mode's catalog, and the setlist was clearly culled quite intelligently.

And late-show blasts through "Everything Counts," "Stripped," "Enjoy the Silence," "Never Let Me Down," "A Question of Time" and the closing "Personal Jesus" were all absolute joys.

Rare is the concert--even great ones by heroes like U2--that I can't imagine being any better.

This was one of them.

And if I haven't made it clear, Depeche Mode most definitely and demonstrably belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, even if it doesn't really matter.

1 comment:

Ken said...

A persuasive case, well argued.