Depeche Mode and Peter Bjorn and John at the Hollywood Bowl
Band shines with a selection of crowd-pleasing favorties and new songs.
Depeche Mode played the first of its two nights at the Hollywood Bowl Sunday night, the British band's first ever performances at the iconic venue. The months leading up to the concert were plagued with show cancellations, due to frontman Dave Gahan's health problems, but Depeche Mode were in fine form, playing a set of crowd-pleasing favorites sprinkled with a few more recent songs, including some from this year's Sounds of the Universe.
First up were openers Peter Bjorn and John. Even though the Swedish trio's new album, Living Thing, is a little more electro in nature than the band's previous albums, Peter Bjorn and John seems like strange touring bedfellows for Depeche Mode. Peter Bjorn and John were swallowed up by the huge stage and the crowd, many of whom were still finding their seats, appeared uninterested. The band was also stuck playing in the daylight and the video screens displayed no images of the band's set—only the band's name was splashed up there—which made the band seem even smaller and farther away. The Swedes launched into their most recognizable song, "Young Folks." While on record the song is a duet with Victoria Bergsman (ex-Concretes, Taken By Trees), and has been played live before with other female vocalists filling in for Bergsman, vocalist Peter Morén performed the duet all by his lonesome. You would've thought that since the band was playing the legendary Hollywood Bowl that Peter Bjorn and John would've found a great local female singer to fill in on the song. In fact, they should've arranged for a singer to take on the duet for the entire tour with Depeche Mode. At least they kept the whistling. Despite these setbacks, Peter Bjorn and John played a spirited set.
Depeche Mode began its set with three songs from Sounds of the Universe, starting with album opener and highlight "In Chains." Depeche Mode has been known for its impressive visual shows and tonight the band didn't disappoint. For "In Chains" two human faces graced the video screens as we gradually watched them age. Simultaneously, another woman on the screen exercised. Next up was Sound of the Universe's single "Wrong," whose music video is essential viewing, but in concert a live black and white feed of the band performing was on the screens.
It didn't take long for Depeche Mode to delve into its rich back catalogue and by song four the band was playing "Walking in My Shoes," in which Gahan asked the audience to sing the chorus. Gahan—who was shirtless save for an open vest—didn't say much to the audience, beyond several thank-yous and shout-outs to Los Angeles and his bandmates. But he was quite fond of spinning around the stage a lot. During Playing the Angel's "Precious" a typewriter appeared on the video screens and we watched as it typed out a poem about God and religion.
Gahan took a break, leaving Martin Gore—who was a clad in a shiny, silver, disco-like outfit—to sing lead vocals on two songs: Sounds of the Universe's "Jezebel" and Ultra's "Home." Gore passionately laid into the latter, his vocals the equal of Gahan's. During "Enjoy the Silence" the video screens flashed up images of the band in space suits and then the main set ended with "Never Let Me Down Again."
The first encore began with Martin Gore performing Some Great Reward's "Somebody," backed only by a keyboard. Gahan then took the stage again, saying, "Thank-you Martin. How awesome was that?" Next the band launched into "Stripped," followed by "Strangelove," which was backed by a video image of one woman sucking another woman's toe.
For the second encore Gahan took the stage and strangely said, "They hate me. They're happy without me." It was unclear who "they" were. As the band played "Personal Jesus" the large white lit up crucifix that always sits glowing on a mountain behind the Hollywood Bowl could be viewed, almost as if you could reach out and touch it. Depeche Mode closed its set with Violator's "Waiting for the Night," which Gahan and Gore sang together.
There was some hope of a third encore, as it took awhile for the lights to come up, but alas it was not to be. Depeche Mode performed a no-nonsense, incredibly professional set—and that's meant as a compliment. Few bands formed in the early '80s (1980 in Depeche Mode's case) still sound this good (if they are even still playing together at all). Few are also still making relevant music—Sounds of the Universe has enough vital tracks to make the album well worth the listen. Depeche Mode was full of vigor that August night and it's doubtful that many fans left unsatisfied or disappointed.
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