Last Night: Depeche Mode, Peter Bjorn and John at the Honda Center, Anaheim; August 19, 2009.
Better Than: Staying in and watching Octomom: The Incredible Unseen Footage, a two-hour "special," on Fox. Words fail me.
Music for the Masses: Not only was it a sell-out crowd, but it was a fantastic mix of ages and ethnicities (Hispanic, Asian, Brits, Americans, Germans, French). Some came alone. Some came in couples. Some came to dance. Some came to get totally off their face. Some came in wheelchairs. And at least one came in dark glasses. At night. Indoors. When has that ever been cool?
Given the cancellation of Depeche Mode's Mountain View concert last week, it was touch and go as to whether or not they'd make it to Orange County last night. Doctors orders or not, to not show up would've risked disappointing one of their biggest and most loyal followings.
Thankfully for us, they came--and gave one hell of a performance. Dave Gahan displayed not a single sign of any lingering illness (which, at last count, included gastroenteritis, a bladder tumor, a torn ligament and a sore throat). If anything, two days of vocal rest seem to have breathed, er, new life, into the Basildon band's frontman.
Strutting around, twirling the mic stand and clapping enthusiastically, Gahan would've put men half his age (47) to shame. And that's before you get to the vocals. Given the rawness of his voice, and it can sometimes be hard to discern any problems, but for me it was pitch-perfect for most of the two-hour duration. Audience participation was carefully scripted, and when it was at its heaviest, during perennial favorite Stripped, the result was disjointed and lackluster. Gahan should stick to the singing. After all, with his raw energy, lithe physique and effortless sex appeal, he's such a powerful presence that you get the feeling no one would've cared if he'd mimed. When he begs "Touch me" during "Fly on the Windscreen", all the women in the audience (and some men) actually try to.
Not that he should take all the credit: The multi-talented Martin Gore could almost be accused of stealing the limelight, such is his vocal prowess and visual appeal (kitted out in a shiny silver suit and boots, it's hard not to miss him). Who else could make "You're going straight to hell" (on "Jezebel") sound endearing? When he sings the hauntingly beautiful "Somebody," there's not a dry eye in the house. At once it sounds like an anthem and as if it was written yesterday, not a quarter of a century ago.
By contrast, Andy "Fletch" Fletcher, the third original member, seems quietly satisfied away the front line, happy to contribute from behind his synth. I swear he looks more like Michael Caine in "Alfie" every day.
Drummer Christian Eigner and keyboardist Peter Gordeno rounded things out, while Anton Corbijn's unmistakeable touch was on the ever-changing background screens.
Though heavy weight--including the three openers--is given to the band's latest CD, Sounds of the Universe, eight albums are covered in total, starting with 1984's Some Great Reward.
From ballads to rabble rousers and back again, the whole night was a rollercoaster of sounds and emotions (although Depeche Mode have been known since their inception as an "electronic band," their lyrics have always been as important as their sound. When Gahan bellows out "Finally, I've found that I belong here" on Home, the multiracial SoCal crowd sing along like they mean every word.)
High points included the catchy Enjoy the Silence; Personal Jesus (Gore's twanging reminiscent of Chuck Berry); and first encore closer "Behind the Wheel," a surprise inclusion that took the place of "Strangelove," which had been played in other cities.
Any low points? One or two. Followers from way back when (such as myself: I first saw them in Southend in 1982) may have been disappointed not to be treated to anything from their first album, Speak & Spell. And perhaps they could've spoken to the audience more frequently. Flirting and sashaying do count for something, sure, but sometimes we need a little more.
That said, you can't fault Depeche Mode for flagging. If anything, their energy (along with the crowd's) increased as the night wore on, and they genuinely seemed to have fun. When Gore hangs on to the mic stand towards the end of the final song, "Waiting for the Night," (a curiously downbeat choice), it's out of emotion, not exhaustion.
Personal Bias: I first fell in love with Dave Gahan in 1981. It wasn't reciprocated--probably because a) I was nine years old and b) he didn't know me. The fact that I grew up not ten miles from Basildon gave me the wrong and cruel impression that all bands came from the immediate vicinity of where I lived. I quickly got over Dave's "rejection" and became one of the first members of the band's fan club (or "Information Service," as it was known at the time). That year I got a Christmas card signed by all four members! See, he did love me, after all!
Random Detail: Everyone--and I mean everyone--was asking, in a trying-but-failing-to-sound-casual way, "Weren't there any backstage passes, too?," when collecting their tickets from Will Call. To which the answer should've been "No. Obviously not. Otherwise I'd have given them to you." Nice try, people.
By the Way: It'd have been the icing on the cake to be treated to the grindings of "Master & Servant," especially as today marks the 25th anniversary of its release.
Apology: Through no fault of my own, I missed the support act, Swedish indie rock band Peter, Bjorn and John, in its entirety. Sorry! All I can say is that I heard bits of "Young Folks" through the wall and it sounded good.
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Depeche Mode set list:
"Hole to Feed"
"Walking in my Shoes"
"It's No Good"
"A Question of Time"
"Fly on the Windscreen"
"Policy of Truth"
"In Your Room"
"I Feel You"
"Enjoy the Silence"
"Never Let Me Down Again"
"Behind the Wheel"
"Waiting for the Night"