Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017
Our Uber driver tells us we are his third trip to the Hollywood Bowl this evening and it’s still not quite dark yet. Los Angeles’ infamous rush hour traffic has nothing on the standstill Depeche Mode have created for the first of their never-done-before-by-any-band four nights at the Hollywood Bowl. This is not exactly unexpected; as noted in L.A. Weekly's cover story on the band this week, Depeche Mode enjoy a fanatical following in our city. LAPD has gotten into the action as well, taking over the crowd control for the foot traffic congested around the Hollywood Bowl’s entrances.
After Warpaint’s opening set, banging, dark techno amps up the cross-generational, sold-out crowd for the main attraction. The anticipation builds as a crude cartoon of walking legs repeats across the backdrop. This transforms into richly colored, Jackson Pollock-like paint splatters as the band walk onstage and born-to-be-a-frontman Dave Gahan takes his place on a catwalk in between the two staggered backdrop screens, his silhouette small but instantly recognizable.
This is the Global Spirit Tour, in support of Depeche Mode’s latest and certainly great album, Spirit. But the set list is as generously distributed as it can be considering the group’s nearly four decades of music. The bombastic “Going Backwards” from Spirit sets the tone for evening. It takes a few songs before the Bowl's side screens, usually reserved for stage cameras, show the band members' faces; instead they display Anton Corbijn-directed videos of the songs being performed.
Any song from Depeche Mode’s first 10 years has the entire amphitheater leaping out of their seats and roaring in harmony. Slightly remixed versions of “World in My Eyes,” “Enjoy the Silence,” “Stripped” and “Never Let Me Down Again,” have the crowd in a frenzy. With the wealth of material the group has to draw from, there's no need to include such early hits as “People Are People” or “Just Can’t Get Enough.” Instead they focus more on hardcore fan favorites, including “Question of Lust,” one of a few songs performed very stripped down by principal songwriter Martin Gore, arguably the most beloved individual in Depeche Mode. Later, when they perform “Everything Counts” and a camera zooms in on Gore’s black-painted fingernails playing the song's key hook, it really is everything.
This is not to take away anything from Gahan, whose tireless energy — and toned arms — are truly enviable, as are his fantastically flamboyant, Pete-Townshend-windmills-meets-Black-Swan dance moves. No one makes showing off look as good as Gahan does. He takes that vibe all the way to the top seats at the Bowl, leaving everyone feeling touched by a superhuman superstar. And when Gahan and Gore play off each other, particularly when Gore is behind his glittery star-shaped guitar, the excitement from the fans is off the charts.
Andy Fletcher, always the most solid and serious of the trio, stays in dark shades at his synthesizer station in the back. His presence, nevertheless, can be felt in every corner of the Bowl. Fletch, as he is affectionately known, is even more understated than Depeche Mode’s longtime touring musicians and collaborators: multi-instrumentalist/backing vocalist Peter Gordeno and formidable powerhouse drummer, Christian Eigner. Who needs a drum machine when you have this guy?
The two-hour-plus set takes the gig all the way to the Bowl’s curfew of 11 p.m. Depeche Mode give it their all, clear through the encore, which they keep old-school. It starts with Gore accompanied only by Gordeno’s keys, tugging at every heartstring with “Somebody,” turning the whole venue — particularly the guys — into a puddle of emotions. The encore includes a cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes,” which is great but seems like an odd choice, considering how much of their own material they don't have time to get to. They get back to the Depeche Mode catalog with the crunching riffs of “I Feel You” and close the night, of course, with the song the majority of the crowd were singing on their way to the Hollywood Bowl earlier in the evening, “Personal Jesus.”
Depeche Mode at the Hollywood Bowl are an understandably pricey ticket, but if you’ve ever liked any songs from this group at any point in your life, your money would be well spent on the unforgettable experience of seeing a truly tremendous live act. You have three more chances to make it happen (although you'll have to hit the secondary market — all shows are sold out). Just give yourself an additional two hours to get there.
Set list below.
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So Much Love
Barrel of a Gun
A Pain That I'm Used To
In Your Room
World in My Eyes
A Question of Lust
Where's the Revolution
Enjoy the Silence
Never Let Me Down Again
Walking in My Shoes
"Heroes" (David Bowie cover)
I Feel You