Just saw Depeche Mode last night and things have changed a bit since I last saw them during "The Singles Tour" in the late 90's. The biggest difference is that Martin Gore has picked up some showmanship. Maybe it was the solo tour, or the tension with Dave, but he's much more rock 'n' roll than before with "dramatic" rock god guitar moves (ala Metallica) and worked the crowd a little while singing. Then there is Martin's dancing around the stage in a style that suggested a mix of tribal ceremony and raver. Quite a change from the last time I saw the group perform when he seemed impossibly shy.
Dave Gahan once again showed that he is consummate showman of the synthpop-era and worked with the crowd amazingly even if ran around the stage and flung the mic stand just a little less than before. He only failed to really get the crowd into the amount of frenzy that he wanted on two occasions not convincing the crowd to sing ever word of "Suffer Well", which I believe the only song of the night he wrote, even if the song deserved it more than most of the new material and getting no one to sing along to show's closer "Goodnight Lovers." Again this wasn't his fault. That song appears at the end of "Exciter" and so pretty much every sensible listener has shut off the disc long before that song ever plays.
Then there was Fletch. He is still Fletch, but he's toned down the clapping quite a bit, maybe the internet age brought it to his attention that it's not quite the fan favorite that he thought. He also spent lots of time apparently verifying sounds one ear to the headphones dj-style and occasionally seemed to play parts that could be identified.
The new material was something of a mixed bag. It seems that arrangements have been mixed from the album, and Ben Hillier's touch was sorely missed. While "A Pain That I'm Used To" was far stronger than I expected, it was outnumbered by the train wrecks. "Precious" was a complete mess live with the acid baseline out of place within the context of the rest of the set and losing the delicate nature of the song to the clangy arena acoustics. I'm not a big fan of "Damaged People" on the album, but it was so much worse live. I suspect Martin thinks of it as an anthem of sorts for DM fans with the "we're damaged people drawn together" line but it's way too long for the uninteresting musical content surrounding it and lyrics go on to talk about forgetting about being about being cold and crying while you are old and dying and it's just embarrassing in front of people. Maybe it's just me though, because there was a group of women singing along very loudly ever word of the song right behind me.
The gems from the band's back catalogue were clearly the highlights and any real reason for shelling out unreasonable amounts of money to see DM at this point. Whoever is did the programming this time around had really excellent instincts in direction. The "Violator"-era hits changed almost nothing sound-wise (unlike the unfortunate '93 tour that rocked-out "Enjoy The Silence" long before Linkin Park got their hands on it), but let the instrumental parts breathe enough to keep the crowd ecstatic. Then they managed to rejuvenate older staples like "Everything Counts" and "A Question Of Time" going further into dance territory than Mode would on their own driving the songs a with modern electro sound.
Overall it was interesting experience because the band has clearly grown over the years and the crowd made it apparent that I had as well. While I did see some familiar faces among the assembled throng like Alison who was the HR director at the college station I deejayed at and local synthpop royalty Claudio, it was very apparent I'm not the massive Depeche fan I was in high school. I didn't have to sing at the top of my lungs every word of every song. "Goodnight Lovers" only sounded vaguely familiar and I found myself wondering why they were playing a b-side as a final encore. Maybe I’ve become less devoted, but as the 90’s wore on the band just lost the energy and spirit that energized their earlier work. I’m glad to see that they’ve regained some of that back, but as Martin L. Gore sang on his “Counterfeit” EP you’ve got to move on sometimes. Maybe I have.