By Paul Rogers
Face it, Depeche Mode are a duo. Sure, the English electro-pop vets have that other bloke hanging about, manning his hi-tech station with all the panache of a toll booth attendant, and two deft hired hands on keys and drums, but they're in essence songwriter Martin Gore's skewed show tune sensibilities and frontman Dave Gahan's warm-yet-wounded, elfish Elvis on-stage persona.
Last night's literally traffic-stopping, 7-song outdoor set in Hollywood (for ABC TV's Jimmy Kimmel Live!) married tunes from their 12th album, Sounds of the Universe, released on Tuesday (current single “Wrong”, “Peace” and “Come Back”), to career-making confessionals (“Personal Jesus”, “Walking In My Shoes”, “Enjoy The Silence” and “Never Let Me Down Again”) at least fifteen years old. And while their welcome didn't match the bug-eyed pandemonium of their legendary 1990 WeHo in-store appearance, an estimated crowd of 12,000 was none too slouchy for a band well past their commercial prime.
Depeche Mode's live vibe pivots on Gahan's gleeful Freddie Mercury prancing next to Gore's knowingly contented, Flock of Seagulls visage. Gahan charms by being both chest-puffing pop star and karaoke commoner – with the band now touring only every few years, he exudes a fan's eyes-closed appreciation of their opulently chiseled tunes and revisits his past dark lyrics with the head-shaking grin of someone watching vintage video of himself.
“Wrong” was instant and insistent, its stomping four-on-the-floor sweetened with glacial blips and soured with signature regret, but “Walking In My Shoes” and closer “Never Let Me Down Again” still distilled all that's Depeche: at once alienated, betrayed and playful, with hooks made oh-so-vulnerable by Gore's tremulous drama-queen harmonies. Having embraced live drums and guitar years ago, their shows have traded much of their previous android industry for aching, blatant humanity. If Kraftwerk proved that machines could make pop music, it was Depeche Mode who truly made the machines work for them.