View more photos in the “Depeche Mode: Night One” slideshow.
Depeche Mode at the Hollywood Bowl, Aug. 16
You needn't look back at the Rose Bowl in 1988 or the West Hollywood record store riot of 1990 to measure Depeche Mode's relationship with our city. Those kinds of things are for the history books, a nice story for the grandkids. For Angelenos, seeing the band live — whether they're testing new material or dusting off the old — every few years is like the rock 'n' roll equivalent of a car inspection, a sort of tune-up for the ears and soul. Or, to borrow the band's own album title, we're simply “Catching Up With Depeche Mode.”
Not ones to rest on their '80s catalog, the band (which included drummer Christian Eigner and additional keyboardist Peter Gordeno) opened the first of their two sold-out nights with a few cuts off their current Songs of the Universe album, including the single “Wrong.” Dressed in a silver sequin suit, guitarist and songwriter Martin Gore still has that tuft of boyish, blond hair. Singer Dave Gahan still struts around the stage like a gay street hustler. And Andrew Fletcher is still Fletch, standing anonymously behind twin keyboards, intermittently raising his arms to prove that, like aliens and crop circles, he does exist.
The three should keep longtime photographer/video director/set designer Anton Corbijn on the payroll for as long as he can hold a camera. Corbijn's fingerprints were everywhere, from the black-and-white screens to the overhead disco ball that morphed into an eye ball, globe and gum ball dispenser. And what could be more Corbijn-esque than a crow flying through the desert during “Stripped,” or two scantily-clad girls sucking each others toes during “Strangelove?”
The rest of the evening wasn't much of a surprise, consisting of mostly radio hits, ballads and fan favorites, including the high-amped, pulsating “Question of Time,” which Gore punched up with a grungy, metallic wallop. Not a big musical leap if you consider the slithering, dirty blues riffs he's crafted for songs like “I Feel You” and “Personal Jesus.” “Fly On the Windscreen” was perhaps the only unexpected choice, which raises the question: Why not dig deeper? ( B-sides? Speak and Spell?).
Angelenos have a sense of ownership when it comes to Depeche Mode, and Gahan knows his audience well. We know when to wave our arms during “Never Let Me Down Again” (the dance de rigueur that began on that fateful Rose Bowl night) before Gahan even gives the unsung cue. And we know when to take over the vocal duties during key moments on “Walking In My Shoes” and “Enjoy the Silence.” The latter had the three dressed in spaceman suits, which is not as weird as, say, Gahan trekking up a Swiss mountain with a lawn chair; nearly 20 years on, and we're still waiting for Corbijn to explain that one.
Though they've been trading the mike since the band's beginnings, Gore has always been woefully under recognized as a vocalist; while Gahan's sexy baritone teeters on the dark and dangerous, Gore has the wounded and innocent vulnerability of a little boy who's lost his puppy, whether he's warbling through “Home” or “Somebody.” (I'm a nobody, but I can be that somebody, dammit). The two did, however, duet on the appropriately-named closer “Waiting for the Night,” sending us off into the dark and a Depeche-less dawn.