Depeche Mode, Austin360 Amphitheater, September 20, 2017. All photography Amy Lemen & Sparta Komissarova
I first saw Depeche Mode in 1990 on the World Violation Tour to support the release of Violator. Alt rock band Nitzer Ebb opened the show, but as I recall, they were a bit of a blur in anticipation of the main event.
Depeche Mode was on top of the world at the time, with “Personal Jesus,” “Policy of Truth,” “World in My Eyes,” and “Enjoy The Silence” all achieving gold status. Lead vocalist Dave Gahan was classic, teasing, and over-the-top; Martin Gore was the powerful sidekick on guitar with the sweet, almost operatic voice; Andy Fletcher was experimenting with trippy Pink Floyd-esque sounds on keyboards and bass guitar; and keyboardist/guitarist Alan Wilder was still part of the band.
Fast forward 27 years to last week’s show at Circuit of the Americas (and a few more Depeche Mode shows later for me…), and it was clear that the band’s music is as powerful and relevant as ever.
Menage a Trois: Yes, please: Depeche Mode has long been down to three core members – Gahan, Gore and Fletcher – and that’s proved to be plenty. A Beatles cover of “Revolution” kicked off the instrumental pre-show, with “Going Backwards” from Spirit, the band’s latest release, as the first song. A political statement about where the world is today, Gahan asks “Are you counting all the casualties?” Yes, sir – we are.
From there, it was a long and winding trip down memory lane, with the band undulating through choices from Ultra (1997), Playing the Angel (2005), Sounds of the Universe (2009), Songs of Faith and Devotion (1993), Violator (1990), Black Celebration (1986), and Construction Time Again (1983). The emotions of the songs emotions ran the gamut – from all-out anguish and unbridled ecstasy to violence and unconditional love.
“Barrel of a Gun” was dark and disturbing – a song from Ultra that came out as Gahan was at the peak of a raging heroin addiction, Gore was dealing with alcoholism and seizures, and Fletcher was struggling with depression – yet blatantly sexual and absolutely mesmerizing. By the time the band launched into “Corrupt,” I had no doubt that multiple condom wrappers would litter the lawn before the night ended.
Voices for all: But it wasn’t until “In Your Room” and “World in My Eyes” that the crowd responded with the same passion that Depeche Mode has elicited for years – the result of tight, focused rhythms; smart, insightful lyrics; and their status as one of the artistic voices for the LGBTQ community before they were truly heard.
Gore’s solo performance of “A Question of Lust” – which the band slowed down by at least a beat or more – was a soulful, heartfelt rendition. After the politically-charged plea of “Where’s the Revolution?” – another track off DM’s latest album – the band erupted into an extended version of any self-respecting Depeche Mode fan’s wet dream: “Everything Counts,” a stark version of “Stripped,” “Enjoy the Silence,” and “Never Let Me Down.”
Whew. Now I wanted a (musical) cigarette; luckily, the encores delivered. First Martin Gore with “Somebody” – a universal anthem of unconditional love and connection. And then, in true Gahan/Gore/Fletcher fashion, the band took an unexpected turn with “Walking in My Shoes.”
“Heroes” of the night: Depeche Mode played for well over two hours, including 17 main set songs and five encores. But it was the 20th song of the set that gave the crowd goosebumps – once we all figured out what it was, that is. Depeche Mode’s version of David Bowie’s “Heroes” was slow and sweet at the start, then raw and rough-edged by the end.
“I Feel You” was a fitting and over-the-top sensual last fling, and “Personal Jesus” (which seems more relevant now than ever) seemed to leave the crowd satiated and ready for more. And that’s valid: “Strangelove,” “Shake the Disease,” “Just Can’t Get Enough,” People Are People,” and “Master and Servant” were noticeably absent. But I don’t think anyone was complaining.
Amy Lemen is an Austin writer whose pennies earned from penning content go to live music, her teenage daughter, and a cranky old Jeep. (She needs to write more.) She’s currently working on a home art project to showcase 30+ years of concert tickets.