Depeche Mode at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY on June 6, 2018,

Jun 11, 2018 Photography by Austin Trunick
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Of all those still around to tour, Depeche Mode was the only one of my top bands I’d never bothered to see live. It’s not because there wasn’t opportunity – I remember mulling over a ticket purchase for a show in Cuyohoga Falls, Ohio as a teen – but for other, weirder (and, I’ve discovered, unfounded) reasons. A catty comment in one of the widely-available mags covering alt-rock in the late 90s (Spin? Rolling Stone?) had accused Depeche Mode of being a mediocre live act despite selling out arenas the world over, and that single line somehow lodged itself deep inside my brain. It likely compounded with the simple fact that the live album I owned – 101 – was my least-played in the Depeche Mode collection. The band has rolled through New York plenty of times in the 15 years I’ve now lived here, and each time I’d let them pass me by, perhaps worried that an underwhelming experience might taint my feelings about a band whose albums have, for most of my music-loving life, had steady rotation on my stereo.

Time flies, though, and I find myself moving again to a house in the country. Depeche Mode’s latest tour, The Global Spirit Tour, would be my last shot to see the band in New York, as a New Yorker. If I didn’t do it now, I was going to have to find a babysitter and drive several hours out-of-state to make it happen should the opportunity come around again in the future. And so I held my breath, hoping that this single tourdate would prove my long-held and irrational fears wrong.

How coud any fan possibly be disappointed by the show I witnessed?

I found myself in a similar crowd to the one I watched the Cure play for at Madison Square Garden two years back: a wide range of longtime followers who’d been with the band since the ‘80s, mixed with a younger contingent (like myself) who’d presumably become hooked on the group during a brief flirtation with goth culture in junior high. Unlike the Cure, though, whose sprawling performances stretched three hours and four encores and varied over three sold-out evenings, Depeche Mode’s performance was on a far more rigid schedule. Depeche Mode’s was one show I wish I’d avoided reading spoilers about online, as they play the same setlist night after night, city after city, ‘round and ‘round the world. (Knowing ahead when songs will come is a bummer.) This is, of course, my fault and not the band’s – they’re far from the only act to go so scripted. Depeche Mode’s live arrangement is a well-oiled machine, glossy and near-perfect, like a well-hammered Broadway musical. With this approach, it’s highly doubtful they ever have an “off night.”

The Global Spirit Tour finds the band playing a 20-song set spread out pretty fairly across their almost 40-year discography. Many of the old classics were obviously heard, from “Never Let Me Down Again,” to “Personal Jesus,” to “Walking in My Shoes” and “I Want You Now.” 1997’s Ultra was the most-represented of their records, featuring four songs among the setlist, and last year’s Spirit naturally had a high number of tracks slotted in. When a band has as many great singles and so many defining eras as Depeche Mode, they’re always going to skip a few of your favorites – and, at the same time, play at least half a dozen you really love.

One thing that finally seeing Depeche Mode live did was give me an even better appreciation of Dave Gahan’s role in the group His dreamy baritone, of course, has long been the band’s most recognizable asset, and he’s become an increasingly frequent contributor to the songwriting on the group’s latter-era releases. Until you’ve seen them play before an arena crowd, though, it’s hard to know just how much Gahan is the heart and soul of their live shows. He wiggles, mugs, shimmies and spins like an out-of-control gyroscope; his on-stage antics are more than your typical lead singer strutting and preening, but a madcap energy and joy that elevates everything else happening on stage. Gahan comes across as if he’s loving what he’s doing, and that wild glee helps make a show that could otherwise appear too business-as-usual feel far looser than it is. He’s a blast to watch, and almost exhausting – the moments when he left the stage for one of Martin Gore’s vocal performances (such as “The Things You Said”) you felt as if you could catch your breath for a bit, which Gahan was no doubt doing backstage.


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