Depeche Mode: Live Last Night

gahanDepeche Mode's Dave Gahan at the band's North American tour opener in Toronto last week. (Photo by Malcolm Taylor/Getty Images)

Live Last Night

By Mark Jenkins

Roughly rendered, Depeche Mode means "fast fashion,'' a phrase that seemed increasingly inappropriate as the British band lumbered through a two-hour concert Tuesday night at Nissan Pavilion. Rarely has a pop group earned such devotion playing such draggy material.

The band, which began 29 years ago with sprightly synth-pop, now plays mostly ballads, dirges and marches, relieved by the occasional midtempo disco beat. At Nissan, the trio and its two longtime accompanists started slow with "In Chains'' and "Wrong,'' uninspired new songs. But the show's pulse quickened in its second half, which featured more material from the group's late-'80s peak.

(Read the rest of the review after the jump.)

The music combined simple keyboard motifs, skeleton-rattling beats and bleak lyrics. The best-known of the latter were often ceded to the audience by singer Dave Gahan, who encouraged the crowd to take the refrains of such glumly catchy tunes as "Stripped.'' Behind Gahan, a video screen illustrated diverse themes: universal brotherhood, space exploration and -- during "Strangelove'' -- foot fetishism.

Principal songwriter Martin Gore played guitar for most of the show, but it was audible chiefly during intros, outros or riffs unnecessarily transcribed from the original versions's keyboard melodies. The only song transformed by guitar was "Personal Jesus,'' which became a twangy blues-rocker. More such alchemy, and a few added uptempo songs, would have been welcome.

Openers Peter, Bjorn and John expanded such blithe ditties as "Young Folks'' with dance-club timbres and arena-rock flourishes. The bigger sound didn't seem entirely fitting, but the Swedish trio's songs proved sturdy enough to withstand the treatment.

By David Malitz |  July 29, 2009; 11:09 AM ET Live Last Night
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For the first time since Songs of Faith and Devotion did Depeche Mode consistently show their rougher side on stage. They slowed down some of the tunes which intensified the sound they have on their albums. If you like Just Can't Get Enough the best, this was not a show for you apart from some catchy pop tunes from the opener band Peter, Bjørn and John.
For the true DM fans though, this was a great show. David sang for the most part on pitch which was a delight to hear. In spite of his injury earlier this month, he was still dancing around stage as he did in his early 20s but with more sophistication and maturity in every move. This man has charisma on stage. Martin sang his ballads in a more acoustic form than is found on the album. This has been the norm for their live shows and creates a more fragile and intimate feeling.
The show at Nissan Pavilion was a joy to dance and sing along to. If you don't know their later tunes and are stuck in the early '80s I do encourage you to have a true DM fan recommend some of their later songs for you to download. Listen to them more than once. This music grows on you.

Posted by: OperaDM | July 29, 2009 11:58 AM

A true DM fan, please. Probably my favorite band of all time, I bought the latest album soon after it was out. Sorry to say, it's just not good. I skipped the show when I saw the set list online. Way too oriented towards the last few albums. Did they even play Blasphemous Rumors? From what I read they weren't going. DM peaked with Black Celebration and Music For the Masses.

Posted by: restonhoops | July 29, 2009 12:13 PM

Great show. Played plenty of songs from their Violator album, which is by far the best. Glad I went!!

Posted by: mugengsr1 | July 29, 2009 12:20 PM

It was an interesting night. I think I liked the "Touring the Angel" show a bit more, but I'm just being a bit picky. Definitely a harder edge to this show.

Posted by: EricS2 | July 29, 2009 12:34 PM

The show was excellent, the band shined on stage. This is the 4th time I've seen them in concert, and they were just as good as the all the other times.

When you someone to review a show they should at least have some interest in the band/genre of music. They are not a main stream band, and shouldn't be compared to their early pop years when they had a different song writer, Vince Clarke.

I loved the concert! If they come again, I will be the first in line for tickets!!!

Posted by: delona_shelley5 | July 29, 2009 12:52 PM

It might be useful to have someone review the concert who actually likes -- or knows something about -- the band in question. Matt Jenkins clearly is no fan of DM's "draggy material" (I'm guessing he has never heard "A Question of Time," "People Are People," "Personal Jesus," etc. Beyond that MJ also doesn't seem to have much of a grasp on contemporary music if he thinks bands with "draggy material" haven't generated followings. I guess no one with any actual knowledge about recent pop music was available to review the concert.

Posted by: cypheractive | July 29, 2009 1:17 PM

It might be useful to have someone review the concert who actually likes -- or knows something about -- the band in question.

Posted by: cypheractive | July 29, 2009 1:17 PM


That's not how art criticism works. For a biased pro-band review, you can always just go directly to fan sites.

To reference another draggy band, I don't think the Post has ever given a good review to Sigur Ros. And while I may disagree greatly with their view, I respect that the reviewers were calling it as they saw it.

I will say though, Depeche Mode were never exactly sprightly Synth Pop, not even at the start.

Posted by: M__N | July 29, 2009 1:31 PM

Does the scummy Washington Pest have to attack everyone and everything? Hire a music critic with some musical taste or is this guy's specialty the Jonas Brothers?

I have tix for opening night at the Hollywood Bowl concert and been a Mode fan since 1985. The newer stuff is great. I don't need more than a few songs from the 80's but glad to hear NLMD, Master and Servant, Fly on Windscreen, and Strangelove are on the set list--those are great picks from the 80's.

Recommend Dave's last solo album, Kingdom. The first 3 songs are great. The first song was used on TV for the ads for the new Beyonce movie "Obsessed"? or whatever it is called.

Anyhow, get it right Wapo. Live a little: the wicked witch is dead!

Posted by: met_Dave_on_5th_Ave | July 29, 2009 1:34 PM

Thanks for reviewing this fascinating band.

In the interest of equal time, I look forward to one on KMFDM, my other favorite!

Posted by: tony_in_Durham_NC | July 29, 2009 1:49 PM

Umm Met, they've ALWAYS sniped at the Jonas brothers since they broke out last year.

I think the reviewer hit things spot on. DM isn't exactly upbeat music most of the time. "Draggy" may not have been the best choice of words, but it does fit a lot of DMs stuff. Doesn't mean it's bad music, it's just not as uplifting as some other bands.

Posted by: EricS2 | July 29, 2009 2:57 PM

For a longtime fan who first saw them in concert 25 years ago and a fellow musician, I have to say I do prefer their older music and would have liked to hear more. Every time they played an older tune, the crowd seemed to perk up.
Though their music was never really mainstream and usually on the more serious side - a pro in my book - their newer songs - which may be ok on an album, seem a bit depressing on stage. Nice to know Martin can still belt it out - his voice has ripened nicely with age. Dave did a nice job on the vocals though he has lost some of his youthful luster. The sound could have been a little more clear as it was hard to understand their meaningful lyrics, and the music and vocals tended to blend together in a loud mush. All in all, though, they may be older, but they still got it.

Posted by: arv67 | July 29, 2009 2:59 PM

Saw them last night. Song set list stunk...but I only paid 16 bones for the tickets. They need to play more classics next time....e.g everything up to Ultra.

People come to hear the classics...not snooze for the newer stuff.

Posted by: | July 29, 2009 3:22 PM

This is a silly review by someone who doesn't get Depeche Mode at all. But that's OK. Those of us who do get it, we really don't care what most reviewers think anyway.

I really can't see how anyone can fault the set at all. Yes, they played several songs from the new album, and I'll admit that SOTU is not their best effort, despite their return to more synths.

But, for the most part, the set was pretty representative of their discography, with several tracks from Violator, Music for the Masses, Black Celebration, Songs of Faith & Devotion and more. (My one quibble is with choosing Precious as the song the played from Playing The Angel; a good song, but there are many much better tracks they could have chosen.)

Yes, we'd all like them to play more from Speak & Spell than they usually do. Maybe if or when they ever do a reunion tour with Vince Clark and Alan Wilder, we'll all get much more of that (the did play Photographic on their last tour though).

It was a great show. Dave and Martin are excellent showmen. I don't think a single person in the whole crowd was disappointed at all.

I will concede this to the reviewer. I do wish Dave would cut back just a little on the audience sing-alongs. It's fun and nice once in a while, but there's just a bit too much of it. And that's been the case for the last few tours as well.

And for anyone who says Depeche Mode is not "upbeat music," that's just crazy. I submit that those who say that have never been to the Depeche Mode Party that The Black Cat throws a few times a year. You'll have trouble convincing any of the hundreds who crowd in just to dance all night that it's not upbeat music.

Posted by: etpietro | July 29, 2009 3:29 PM

Well put etpietro.

I think it's important to remember that an opinion piece whether written by a professional critic or other individual is only that--an opinion piece. Moreover, based on the article, it does not appear that the author has a knowledge of the band (either through research or through personal appreciation). So, opinion based on a quick snapshot performed without research or prior knowledge of the subject? Wow, just imagine how easy critics had it before the advent of the internet and readers like us posting comments. lol.

While DM did not play their "usual" faves like "Just can't get enough" or "Everything Counts" or "People are People" it's important to remember that this is a band that has been around for over 25 years and has grown and evolved with the times while still keeping their sound and integrity. I think that's pretty special and laudable. Honestly, who wants to see the same concert replayed over and over again? This one marks my 5th and if I'd want to listen to the same line-up repeatedly, I'd just as soon stay home and listen to a CD.

Change isn't always a bad thing.

Any man who can shake his hips and get the crowd riled up like Dave after surgery to remove a bladder tumor and sustaining several tour-related injuries, deserves some applause. "lumbered" is not the word I would use to describe Dave's or anyone else's performance. I guess a non-lumbering performance would be someone who has a choreographed dance up on stage while lip-synching to explosive pyrotechnics?

And while not every song was "peppy", I think the group did an excellent job of showcasing their range including vocal acoustic (Dave's and Martin's duet was beautiful) as well as those with more synth, guitar and drums. DM was quite inclusive: every band member had their dedicated solo.

not being a musician and only a person who appreciates music, I may be viewing this incorrectly, but "pop" is not how I would define DM's sound. Pop reminds me of Rhiana or Britney Spears, maybe fun to listen to (to some), but no depth or meaning. No one who bothers to look at or actually learn the lyrics to DM's songs could state the same for DM.

Posted by: alice9 | July 29, 2009 10:06 PM

You got to be kidding me. If you are a music critic at least be good at it.

Ladies and gentlemen, this critic has not only sat through the entire 2 hours with stone face but asked fans to sit down so him and his friend can see, while the entire arena was standing in ovation to greet the band - Sit down at a Depeche Mode concert? Obviously they did not know that is a huge no-no - I need 'someone' to please repeat the SOFAD phrase "This is not a f'ing movie man!" - This just proves that they not only know nothing about Depeche Mode but they know nothing about the genre and the amazing journey Depeche had lead the fans through in 30 years.

Posted by: mmk297_dreamon | July 30, 2009 12:05 AM

What Have We Here?

Hey! Hey! Mark Jenkins!

You were sitting in row B about seat 19 to 22-ish?
You and your guy friend were over middle age and kinda’ looked a couple of white Erkle’s. One with hair and one without. Did you two dress each other? Don’t ever talk about fashion!

Yes the Washington Post’s very own Ultra Neo Conservative Troll was right behind you for the whole show!
Don’t be too alarmed, I am a pacifist unless it has to do with national security.

Now I am more of a Ted Nugent & Lynyrd Skynyrd fan myself.
I also play guitar in a working band for a guy that looks like Pinetop Perkins and sounds like Little Milton.
What’s My Point?

Well,,,, it sounds like we didn’t see the same show.

The opening act “P-B & J” were much better than expected.
They sounded way better than their song that I heard played in Ikea the other day.
Kind of an early raw “Green Day” if they were born is Sweden.
The sound guy didn’t have them loud enough and buried the vocals with bass and low end.
The band gave high energy performance and the lead singer had great stage presence. He ran out into the audience exchanging high fives and winning new fans as he went.

On to Depeche Mode!

This is not Pink Floyd. This is not the Rolling Stones. This is not your Grandfather’s Rock n Roll.
It is Early Techno Pop that morphed into a Major Musical Cult Phenomenon.
And they did that through a lot of hard work and musical growth.

This show was created explicitly for Depeche Mode fans. Dave and his crew hit it out of the park! The fans were going Nuts! I wonder how many fainted. Or does that only happen for Obama?

They brought in extra session musicians so Dave and Martin could focus on what the fans wanted to hear and see.
The stage effects were great in a Depeche Mode sense. Again this is not Pink Floyd.
They played as close as you can get to the record without being in the studio.
Dave Jumped around on the stage like a young Mick Jagger or Bono and gave the ladies what they came to see.

The bass response of the trillion dollar sound system was amazing! Way Too Amazing!!!
It detracted from the vocal definition. But that is not the band’s fault. It was the evil sound guy who tried to make them sound like Run DMC.

This concert was a Depeche Mode fans’ dream come true.
As for me.
I would have like to see them add an archery exhibition, huge flames and more feedback.
I will just have to wait for Ted to get out of jail. :)

Posted by: rexreddy | July 30, 2009 12:45 AM

Wow, that's a lot of time spent hating on a review that said"Hey, they were good, just not everyone's cup of tea" Chill people.....

Posted by: EricS2 | July 30, 2009 1:30 AM

Draggy? This band just played what 30 sold out stadiums in a row. More people came to this gig then read your paper. Johny Cash has covered one of their songs. They played one song from the last two albums. As far as their new album, there are about six good singles on it. Their comes a time when reporters are no longer in tune with the times.

Posted by: dvdsimmerman | July 30, 2009 2:08 AM

kudos alice9. My thoughts exactly.

This was my first DM concert and I was NOT Let Down. Sorry, MJ and pretentious "long time" DM fans, maybe you've been so lucky to have attended multiple DM shows and have become unimpressed show after show but as a person seeing it in fresh eyes for the first time...who was lucky enough to afford excellent seats... I. Was. In. Awe. And I stood and danced my heart out for the entire show. My only complaint is of all those "fans" in the orchestra section standing still whilst holding their cameras. Go buy a concert DVD and stay at home if you want to be that way. I'm watching it in person and will have this amazing memory for all time. I don't need recorded documentation. I'd rather dance and feel the music.

Posted by: 8berry | July 30, 2009 10:13 AM

The concert on Tuesday night was hands down the best concert I've ever attended. Depeche Mode has millions of devoted fans all over the world and after 30 years DM is far from draggy & bleak. As far as the set list...DM has HUNDREDS of songs to choose I would think that every fan in the audience had a favorite that wasn't played...who cares! I was truly excited to be a part of the energy on Tuesday night and I'm still extremely inspired by EVERY song they write. Their poetic lyrics have helped me through many times in my life and there's no one like them. I'd go to this concert every night if I could. Sorry Mark, you're off on this one man.

Posted by: makeupgirl | July 30, 2009 11:08 AM

Anybody who has followed the band over the years and is a "true" fan, KNOWS that Martin has a fixation on S&M, Bondage, and other such dark subjects...if you want happy, upbeat stuff go see Miley Cyrus. I for one am glad this band still has the energy and enthusiasm to play this set in the middle of a tour that stretches out into 2010. I just wish they would play more of their newer, fresher material instead of catering to those who just have to hear "Stripped", etc. for the umpteenth time.

Posted by: dukemongol | July 30, 2009 11:36 AM

Depeche Mode always get buried by the press. They are a transformational band - an inspiration for other bands. They try new ideas and always move forward. If they replicated Violater or earlier popular albums, they would be finshed.

People love them because they are experimental and always move forward. It is amazing that a band that old looks so young and always move forward and challenges boundaries. That's why Nissan was packed with fans and post Violator songs kept everyone alive.

Posted by: jacob_fultsyahoocom | July 31, 2009 1:04 AM

Funny you should say 'draggy' in your 'review' since I understand you wouldn't even stand up for the concert and made the person in front of you sit down so you could see ruining her night. I guess you were determined to have a bad evening and you wanted everyone else to have one along with you.

You know whenever I go out to eat with my Father he always talks about what bad service he get from the wait staff. Sure enough, his food comes out cold, wrong or both and the servers ignore him. But the funny thing is I always have great service and the food is excatly what I asked for. Mr Jenkins I suspect you went with an attitude of I'm going to hate the show and guess what you did! Wow big surprise there!

To be fair was DM spot on for every song - No, I thought that "Master And Servant" and "Strangelove" were a little disappointing but the spot on performances vastly outweighed the few glitches. And Mr Jenkins if the crowd was on their feet dancing and singing along, still chanting for more after the last encore don't you think using the word 'draggy' was a poor word choice!

Posted by: dre7861 | August 3, 2009 5:23 PM

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