Last Night: Depeche Mode, Peter Bjorn and John at the Honda Center, Anaheim

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.

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.

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

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.

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 N 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

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
N Servant,” especially as today marks the 25th anniversary of its
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.

Depeche Mode set list:

“In Chains”
“Hole to Feed”
“Walking in my Shoes”
“It's No Good”
“A Question of Time”
“Fly on the Windscreen”
“Come Back”
“Policy of Truth”
“In Your Room”
“I Feel You”
“Enjoy the Silence”
“Never Let Me Down Again”

First encore:
“Behind the Wheel”

Second encore:
“Personal Jesus”
“Waiting for the Night”

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