Words: Alex Wood | Photo: DM Facebook
This was my first time seeing Depeche Mode, and it was immediately apparent I had a lot to learn.
I’ve listened to every Depeche Mode record and know their music well enough, but wasn’t the same kind of diehard fan as the people I met in the parking lot, spouting off exact dates from the 80s that were their favorite Depeche shows, wearing old, worn-out tour shirts and discussing tracks from their newest full-length, Spirit, in excruciating detail.
But sometimes going into these things blind can be an advantage, and what I discovered at Tinley Park’s Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre was a spectacle. A Show with a capital “S.” It was mesmerizing, exhilarating and surprisingly relevant in the modern music scene.
Though the venue’s massive lawn didn’t sell out, the excitement as the lights dimmed felt like the roaring applause of a packed house, an appropriately intense instrumental track blaring through the speakers.
The band took stage and began “Going Backwards,” with singer Dave Gahan appearing soon after to an even larger applause, the frontman wearing a red jacket and sparkling shoes.
There are so many things that factor into making a Depeche Mode show a spectacle: the awe-inspiring music and changing setlists, the inevitable half-decade wait for them to tour the states again, the sheer enthusiasm of frontman Dave Gahan and fans’ mutual love for guitarist-and-occasional-singer Martin Gore.
Yet it still comes down to music.
The setlist stuck largely to the band’s more recent output, occasionally pulling songs from the 80s and 90s.
Throughout the set, the band did an excellent job of balancing newer material with old, effectively representing their immense and diverse discography.
“A Pain That I’m Used To” opened with heavy guitar effects, a melodic, driving bass line, and a drumbeat that begs for the audience to clap along. Gahan’s vocals were sincere yet infectious. It was a practically perfect construction, combining elements of the last four decades of music into a phenomenal whole.
The first taste of older material came six songs in with “In Your Room.” The moody track was accompanied by an artistic, choreographed video of a couple in a sterile, white-walled room performing a passionate dance routine.
The song was paired with “World In My Eyes” from 1990’s Violator, a song built on layers of synthesizers, fake strings combining with bleeps and scattered percussion for a spacious, groove-based instrumental backing.
There was more variety than I’d have expected from a band typically (and unfairly) tied to a specific era and scene, the songs dipping into countless genres, proving to be far more than simply synth-pop or new wave.
In fact, the show featured elements of many of my favorite modern bands – the upbeat, bass driven electronic sounds of early LCD Soundsystem, the dark, heavy textures of Nine Inch Nails, the guitar-meets-keyboard jams of Evil Urges era My Morning Jacket, the ethereal textures of Radiohead – along with the obvious older influences of New Order, the Cars, U2 or the Cure.
And the set’s high energy never faded.
Guitarist Martin Gore lent gorgeous lead vocals for “A Question Of Lust,” performed in a stripped-down, piano-based version, the ballad a welcome break.
“Home” may have been a high point for the band’s energy, a massive drumbeat and gurgling synthesizers laying the foundation beneath Gore’s melodic vocals, the song building endlessly upwards to a climactic finale.
By the time “Never Let Me Down Again” came to close the main set, the band was 17 songs deep and hadn’t let a single audience member down.
The track, pulled from 1987’s renowned Songs For The Masses, had the chugging base of a Kraftwerk track, using synthesizers and guitar to add dark layers beneath Gahan’s vocals, the lyrics nothing short of poetry as the excited audience sang along.
During the encore break, the extent of Depeche Mode’s legacy seemed to sink in.
These guys have been doing this since 1980, releasing 14 consistently stunning studio albums without ever breaking for more than five years.
As the band moved from their initial, Devo-esque synth-pop style in the early 80s into their darker, industrial new-wave era, their fans followed. As the industrial slowly morphed into a heavier alternative sound in the 90s, the fanbase remained. And as this became their more current sound, blending modern and nostalgic electronics with the now-established alternative sound, the fans are still here, packing Tinley Park’s amphitheater, as excited as ever.
Few bands have held such an artistic consistency throughout a four-decade career, and the reward is obviously seen in the sincere appreciate of the people filling the seats.
The encore began with “Somebody,” another Gore ballad from the underrated Some Great Reward, before “Walking In My Shoes” returned to their massive, electronic sound.
A beautiful and respectful cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes” followed, before older staples “I Feel You” and “Personal Jesus” brought the show to a fittingly epic end.
There are few bands in the history of rock ‘n roll that can be compared to Depeche Mode, a fact that remains nearly four decades into their career and was demonstrated perfectly with a single night at Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre.
Check out the setlist and watch videos from the set below.
1. Going Backwards
2. So Much Love
3. Barrel Of A Gun (with ‘The Message’ (Grandfather Flash) snippet)
4. A Pain That I’m Used To (‘Jacques Lu Cont’s remix’ version)
6. In Your Room
7. World In My Eyes
8. Cover Me
9. A Question Of Lust (acoustic)
11. Poison Heart
12. Where’s The Revolution
14. Everything Counts
16. Enjoy The Silence
17. Never Let Me Down Again
19. Walking In My Shoes
20. “Heroes” (David Bowie cover)
21. I Feel You
22. Personal Jesus
“World In My Eyes”
“Walking In My Shoes”