In 1993, I was introduced to the music of Depeche Mode by a girl who lived across the hall from me at boarding school. Of course I was already familiar with hits “People are People,” “Strangelove,” “Enjoy the Silence,” and the phenomenal “Personal Jesus.” It was this friend’s influence, however, that led me to fall for what’s still my favorite Depeche Mode song today: “Somebody.” Sure, it’s easy for a 14-year-old girl to love a wistful song, but twenty years later I still adore it (almost thirty years after it was released). And I know, it might be such an obscure favorite that I wouldn’t hear it live, but I didn’t really care: I knew better than to pass up a ticket to see such an iconic band when given the chance. And so I made the trek down to Shoreline Amphitheatre last night to catch their Delta Machine tour (named for the recent album of the same name) – a journey which turned out to take me four hours from home. (Twice what it should be, thanks to an insane parking situation at the venue that will likely keep me from going there any time I can avoid it!)
As you might expect, given that I arrived to the venue well over an hour late, I missed opener Crystal Castles‘ entire set. Fortunately, the headliner seemed to have gotten word that there was an issue with fans getting into the parking lot and therefore venue, and while they were slated to start at 8:45, by the time I rushed into Shoreline at 8:56, they hadn’t started yet. I was thrilled to discover I had time to duck into the nearest ladies’ room and grab a beer before I found my seat. I texted a friend in a nearby section, “cool – they waited for me!” and immediately, the lights went down. Already, it was Depeche Mode/Stace: 1, Shoreline: 0. I couldn’t have been happier for the night to have taken such a happy turn. And all this before the music began.
Their set began appropriately with the lead track off of Delta Machine, “Welcome to My World,” and immediately I knew I was in for a great show. Remarkably, singer Dave Gahan’s voice sounds exactly the same live as it does on record – which is to say amazing. These guys also deserve style points, as nothing on the stage felt outdated as is the case with some acts with their staying power. As soon as they started, every single person was on their feet, and stayed that way for the entire night. It really speaks to a band when their dedicated fans are willing to stand in the cold all night to hear them live, but I certainly understand why they’d be willing to do so. “Angel” came next, after which Dave addressed the audience for the first time with a brief hello. When the faces of the band were projected onto the massive screens on the stage, I made a note: older dudes with guyliner: I’m not mad.” It’d be so easy for them to be living, breathing cliches, but they’re so much the real deal that it just works, and it’s beauty to behold.
“Walking in My Shoes” and the bittersweet “Precious” came next, followed by another quick “thank you!” from Mr. Gahan, who danced around and teased the screaming women in the crowd, opening his vest (he was otherwise shirtless). After the oddly uplifting “Black Celebration” came “Policy of Truth,” which turned the crowd positively rabid, but understandably so. “You like that, huh?” Dave asked at its close. “Barrel of a Gun” was next, and I made a note: “they don’t say much!” That’s always okay, though, when your music’s as good live as theirs is. I had no complaints, and as soon as the intro to “The Child Inside,” from the new album, began, it brought with it a cheer of recognition from the crowd.
“But Not Tonight” was next, with its gorgeous keys: it’s such a pretty tune, and its lyrics transported me to another place. Dave briefly paused again to ask how the audience was before they began “Heaven,” asking again at its close, “how you all doin’? You alright? You still with us?” and then promising they were going to “pick it up a little bit.”
New song “Soothe My Soul” was next, and then “A Pain That I’m Used to” and “A Question of Time,” which featured a crazy and wonderful drum beat. “Enjoy the Silence,” another one of my favorite DM songs, was all that I wanted it to be and then some – it was absolutely brilliant. (Though I always feel a little conflicted, as a writer & word-lover, to love so much a song that says “words are very unnecessary, they can only do harm.” The introvert in me, though, loves the sentiment, though, and it’s perfect in context.) Clearly they were pulling out the big guns now with their hugest hits as “Personal Jesus” began with a slow, sexy intro and then exploded with the first “reach out and touch faith!” I can see why fans might say that Depeche Mode is like their own personal Jesus – for many, an experience with a really great band is like experiencing god in music, and I think Depeche Mode probably does that for a great many of their fans. The crowd shouted along to the refrain again and again, and the song was utterly explosive. When it ended, the band promptly deserted the stage, ending the regular set.
Moments later, the encore began with “Home,” which was acoustic: just Martin and the keys. “Shake the Disease” was acoustic as well, featuring Martin Gore on vocals. Smash hit “Just Can’t Get Enough” came next, and the crowd rushed to the sides and front to try to get to members of the band who were singing to the audience and slapping hands. At the end of the song, a gorgeous reprise with the crowd singing along made me smile, the cherry on the sundae my evening turned out to be, against the odds. The show concluded with “Never Let Me Down Again,” during which Gahan had the entire crowd waving in time to the music. What a beautiful sight to see, and I don’t just mean audience participation: Depeche Mode is a band I can now cross off my live show bucket list, and I’m happy to say that they more than exceeded my expectation: they simply blew my mind. After that, I was happy to head home (and even happier that it only took me the hour and a half it should have)!