The British dance rock group may embody brooding yearning and the agony/ecstasy of diving into dark emotion. But it's their presence on global dancefloors for more than 20 years, the way the combination of Gahan's rich, deeply booming voice and guitarist and songwriter Martin Gore's hypnotic, synthesizer based music sweeps a crowd away, that makes them so continuously powerful. In the late 80's and very early 90's, being into Depeche Mode was a sign of outsider cool. Now they're stadium stalwarts, experts at churning up the power of thousands of dark dancefloor nights into mass bliss.
Not to say that they aren't very good at that. Depeche opened Saturday with several songs from their latest, 2009 release, the ambitiously and aptly named Sounds of the Universe, with several more throughout the show. On Wrong, which topped dance charts this spring, blinding red and orange light throbbed in rhythm with Gahan's bullhorn of a voice and dissonant synthesizer and guitar blasts. But most of the show was devoted to older songs like Silence that have become pop universals: In Your Room, Never Let Me Down Again - and, for the final encore, Personal Jesus, one of those songs that just about everyone seems to know. (If you think you don't, just hum "reach out and touch faith").
The staging was simple, visually stunning and cleverly, conceptually layered: half of a giant globe projected from a stage-spanning screen, which flashed bright colored, distorted pictures of the performing band members, or strange images like the one of a giant crow, its cold eye blinking in the projected ball.
Gore may write all Depeche's songs, but, despite a glitter-encrusted suit , he was a quiet presence, barely moving as he strummed the guitar chords that provide the driving muscle to the band's thundering synthesizer soundscapes. When the composer took over as singer, doing Question of Lust as a quiet piano ballad, the moment didn't come close to the Gahan and the full band's power, despite the plaintive melody and lyrics.
The charismatic center is Gahan, who, despite having battled illness, surgery and injury on this tour (not to mention heroin addiction and attempted suicide in the mid-90's), was in fine, irrepressible form on Saturday, prancing, waving and whirling like a rapturous club kid, mixing intensity, enthusiasm and just the right touch of flippant irony. He hardly said anything and didn't need to, his arms spread wide open, luxuriating in the audience's enthusiasm.
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