Depeche Mode – Their ‘Spirit’ Is Alive and Full of Swagger (a review of the Chicago show)

(June 2, 2018).  Is there a band you’ve known of for a really long time, are familiar with several of their big radio hits, have never really heard a bad thing about them, and pretty much never paid them much attention but in the recesses of your mind know that they’re well respected, have a large devoted following and you wouldn’t mind seeing them in concert if they came to your city – at a reasonable price?

For me, that band is Depeche Mode, the alternative, synth-rock group who got its start in 1980 and has been churning out hit albums and growing its fan base ever since.

Depeche Mode performs in Chicago on Friday, June 1, 2018.

Last night (June 1), DM gave an electrifying performance at Chicago’s United Center arena.  It was the latest stop on their current “Global Spirit Tour,” in support of the 2017 album Spirit – the band’s 14th studio release (and their most recent top-five here in the U.S.).  Almost as if they were being beckoned by the album’s title, more than 20,000 screaming fans brought plenty of spirit as they packed the arena with dancing, singing and arm-waving adoration on Friday night.

Of the dozens of concerts I’ve attended since starting this blog in 2015, I can count on one finger the number where the crowd stood to its feet from start to finish.  Before last night, I wouldn’t have even needed that finger.

Depeche Mode’s three core members: Martin Gore, Dave Gahan and Andy Fletcher.

From the time “Revolution” by the Beatles blared through the huge speakers, signaling Depeche Mode’s impending arrival onstage, to their last utterance of “reach out, touch faith” during the show’s big finish on “Personal Jesus” two hours later, few of the mostly 50-something-year-old crowd of people ever sat down.

You’d have to witness it to understand why this U. K. group (from Basildon) has earned such a massive worldwide following over the 38 years of its existence.  Having now seen them perform live in person, it’s easy to see why they’ve been so enduring and why they’ve twice been nominated for the American Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (snubbed in 2017 and 2018 by arguably less worthy acts).

The band – consisting of wiry and charismatic original frontman Dave Gahan, principle (and, according to many, highly underrated) songwriter Martin Gore, keyboardist Andy Fletcher, plus touring members Christian Eigner (drums) and Peter Gordeno (keyboards/guitar) – put its highly regarded brand of post-punk, futuristic rock on display with 20 songs spanning their entire career.

Surrounded by images of red clinched fists, a large hand’s peace-sign gesture is the backdrop to lead singer Dave Gahan’s silhouette onstage.

Gahan, who turned 56 last month, was the centerpiece.  He strutted across the main stage and its long, narrow crowd-entering extension with the swagger (and the moves) of Mick Jagger, particularly on set opener “Going Backwards” (from the latest album) and “World In My Eyes” (from the band’s classic Violator album).  During the latter, when he launched into one of his trademark 360-degree twirls (the kind that Stevie Nicks or Wonder Woman might do, except better and with more turns), the crowd erupted in praise.

On the night’s second song “It’s No Good,” which was interestingly their last to reach the American top 40 in 1997, I remember thinking, this is actually very good.

In fact, all of the performances were crowd pleasers, but the ones that stood out the most were 1997’s “Barrel of a Gun,” in which Gahan interpolated a line from Grand Master Flash’s hip-hop classic “The Message” (“don’t push me, ‘cause I’m close to the edge, I’m trying not to lose my head”) near the end.

On “Useless” (another of several tracks from DM’s 1997 Ultra album), an attention-grabbing video clip accompanied the band’s performance.  It depicted a Native-American woman standing before a tapestry of the U. S. flag (sans stars) while revealing various word cards matching the song’s lyrics.  Nearby, a pilgrim – seemingly oblivious to the woman – walked about carrying signs of his own that played on the song’s title.

Fun with words: Depeche Mode plays “Useless” on June 1, 2018, at Chicago’s United Center.

Abstract yes, but art nonetheless. 

On “Cover Me” (from the band’s most recent album), I remember thinking two things: 1) I couldn’t have imagined during their “People Are People” days that 33 years later you’d find me at a Depeche Mode concert with 20,000-plus other people enjoying the hell out of it; and 2) where have I been all these years?

By the time the group got to more familiar fare (to me, anyway), like “Everything Counts” I was ready to join in the singing.  It was songwriter Martin Gore’s turn to do the lead vocals for the band as he directed the crowd in an a cappella sing-along at the end (“grabbing hands, grab all they can…everything counts in large amounts”).

A seven-minute extended version of the group’s biggest American hit, 1990’s “Enjoy The Silence” kept the crowd singing and dancing.  And the night’s closer, “Personal Jesus” (also from the band’s masterstroke, their 1990 Violator album) provided the big finish everyone expected.

The large backdrop of a house is shown while DM plays “Home” on June 1 at the United Center in Chicago.

So here is the only complaint you’ll read in this article about Depeche Mode’s electrifying performance:  My friend wanted to hear “Blasphemous Rumours,” while I was gunning for “Policy of Truth.”

The band played neither tune.

It was their only blunder (and even that characterization is a stretch) on a night so sonically and visually captivating, that those two omitted songs were hardly missed.

If one thing became clear to this casual DM listener after witnessing their brilliance firsthand, it’s that Depeche Mode has long evolved from its post-punk, synth-pop days to now having a place among the most legendary live acts in rock music – certainly of those still touring today.

In fact, in retrospect, my fave “Policy Of Truth” might have even been out-of-place on this night – with all its polish and funk sheen.  What Depeche Mode played last night was an all-out rock concert with a song selection well-suited to the occasion.

And they couldn’t have chosen a more fitting rocker to kick off the proceedings than the Beatles’ “Revolution, for the band is indeed revolutionary.  No one has likely meant more to the electronic, alternative-rock genre than Depeche Mode.

Their show was at once dazzling, brilliant, captivating and musically satisfying!

Bottom line: I may have THOUGHT I was a Depeche Mode fan before last night.  But I’m even more of one now and will be paying this group’s catalogue a lot more attention in the days to come.

Job well done, guys!

DJRob

Depeche Mode’s latest album Spirit was released in 2017 and is the tour’s namesake.

Set list for June 1, 2018, at Chicago’s United Center:

  1. Going Backwards 
  2. It’s No Good
  3. Barrel of a Gun
  4. A Pain That I’m Used To
  5. Useless
  6. Precious
  7. World In My Eyes
  8. Cover Me
  9. The Things You Said
  10. Home
  11. In Your Room
  12. Where’s The Revolution 
  13. Everything Counts
  14. Stripped
  15. Enjoy The Silence
  16. Never Let Me Down Again
  17. (Encore) I Want You Now
  18. Walking In My Shoes
  19. A Question Of Time
  20. Personal Jesus
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