I had two days to kill between my month stay in the Canaries and when my lease in Berlin started. At first I kicked myself for planning so poorly. But the concert gods must have been watching over me, because when I looked at Depeche Mode’s tour schedule, I found they were playing in Cologne right in the middle of the gap. A few travel websites later, I had booked my trip and even secured a concert ticket (at face value, praise the gods!), thanks to a Facebook group.
Due to the tragedy at the Ariana Grande concert a few weeks earlier, concertgoers had been advised to arrive much earlier than usual, due to heightened security. And there was a palpable tension in the air as we waited in line, with many attendees, myself included, more subdued yet alert as we waited to be patted down and our bags searched. But once inside, our moods lightened, not the least because of the numerous beers we downed so that we could collect the four different souvenir cups being served at the various Beck’s booths scattered within and without Rheinenergie Stadium.
Although I’m not very familiar with The Horrors, they made an appropriate opening act, what with their new-romantic-cum-dark-wave sound and look, complete with haircuts reminiscent of Suede’s Brett Anderson circa 1994. And as much as I was pleasantly surprised by their performance, I’d been making progress on my cup collecting and so needed the pre-Depeche time to make room so I could complete my set. The line to the ladies’ room was so long it wrapped around itself, a veritable downward spiral that made me think that perhaps I should lobby for women to get cheaper concert tickets. After all, we see far less of the show than do the men, who entered and left their facilities before I’d so much as moved a step forward in the spiral. There oughta be a law.
Unfortunately, Depeche Mode is a band best experienced when the sun has set, as much for the atmosphere their sound evokes as for the lights and signature projections that comprise their productions. But this being Northern Europe, the show began while the sun was still reflecting off the stadium’s higher tiers. No matter. We fans would tolerate the inconvenience.
A snippet of The Beatles’ “Revolution” woke us from our entr’acte reverie, and the stadium was already humming with anticipation as the first few notes of “Going Backwards” filled the air. When Dave hit the stage, looking every bit the lounge lizard he parodies in “It’s No Good,” the crowd’s roar of approval convinced me that I had reached the age that I should invest in a good pair of concert-worthy earplugs.
Dave’s ruby-red jacket was discarded after the first song, exposing his trademark dual-toned vest. The close-ups on the two big screens on either side of the stage raised several questions:
- Where were the red boots he loved so much at the Berlin Telecom show? Every time he’d shown them off, his proud, goofy grin had made me snort with laughter.
- Does he bedazzle himself? When the lights hit just right, he sparkled like a Stephenie Meyer vampire.
- Am I the only one who hates his ‘stache? The look is more “used-car salesman” than the “rock god” aura I believe he’s striving for.
Admittedly, I’ve never been much of a Dave fan, but that’s because he was kind of a dick (to put it mildly) to me and my friends back during the Devotional tour. (I go into more detail about this period in my book, Faithful and Devoted.) Now that he’s cleaned up and turned over enough new leaves to make a shrubbery, he’s probably a completely different person. (At least he seems to be, based on this interview.)
And by different, I mean that, since cheating death a few times, he’s taken up the habit of grabbing his crotch so often you’d think he needs to rethink his choice in undergarments, or at least invest in some anti-itch powder. At the height of my fandom, one reason I’d always admired Depeche Mode was that they hadn’t succumbed to so many of the pop music clichés: using “baby” as lyric filler, name-dropping in songs, and the requisite crotch-grabbing that Michael Jackson somehow pulled off despite his otherwise wholesome reputation. DM had created their own signature moves — pirouetting with the mic stand, strutting like a chicken, and enough derriere-shaking to embarrass a can-can dancer — that set them apart from lesser bands.
You’d think the audience’s response when Dave shook his ass would be enough to appease his ego. But no. If he used to grab his crotch in his pre-overdose days, I don’t recall it, but it seems to have become an increasingly called-upon part of his repertoire. Perhaps at his age it’s simply easier to pull off than the mic-twirl (which he still does, just not as often). He might fall and break a hip.
Also due to past personal encounters, I have much more admiration for the two remaining members, even though these days Fletch seems to do little more than make sure the keyboard doesn’t get dusty and Martin’s eyeliner only accentuates just how much he’s beginning to resemble Keith Richards. No matter. MLG is still a musical force to be reckoned with, and his solos (at this show, “Home,” “A Question of Lust,” and the ever-beloved “Somebody”) are always a concert highlight, particularly because his earnest performance provides the perfect counter to Dave’s over-the-top preening, which is nonetheless entertaining and the reason the band is still one of the top live acts still touring today.
It goes without saying that Alan Wilder’s absence is still strongly felt. Even amid the noise and despite my horrid grasp of German, I caught his name from the fans around me numerous times, once with an accusatory finger pointed at drummer Christian Eigner. As good as Eigner and keyboardist Peter Gordeno are, their presence only emphasizes the gaping hole in the band that no musical scabs will ever fill.
Depeche Mode has always been very cognizant of just how important their fan base is, as evidenced by the recent Takeover contest. At times, they acknowledge this fact, such as when an earlier incarnation of the website used submitted fan photos to create a mosaic of the three members — literally, we were the band. And even when Dave doesn’t point the mic at the audience for backup vocals, I can hear Devotees about me singing along, some following Dave’s lead, others harmonizing à la Martin.
One thing that never fails to amaze me when I see an English-singing band abroad is how well the audience knows the words, even when it’s not their mother tongue. I know several music lovers who took up English specifically so they could better understand the lyrics of their favorite bands. (Perhaps if there were some better German bands, I’d be fluent by now.)
But when “In Your Room” came on, there was a lot of incoherent mumbling going on about me, until finally the crescendo was reached and the crowd exploded with a well-enunciated “Your favorite slave!” Perhaps too many cups had been collected by that point.
The projections have always been one of my favorite aspects of a DM show, and Anton Corbijn’s videos for this tour, although not as good as those of the Devotional tour (what could be?), did not fail to please. I particularly enjoyed the dancers during “In Your Room,” whose sensual tango personified the song’s lyrics. The performance also reminded me just how much personal interpretation of lyrics can change as we grow older. “In Your Room” has always been a favorite of mine, but watching it during last night’s show, I felt how its meaning for me has evolved as I’ve grown older.
Although Spirit is the band’s first album in years that I put on heavy rotation for weeks after its release, it is, of course, their back catalog that still, to this day, can cause physical reactions in my body. And there are few songs that do that more than “Stripped.” When the first few notes reverberated through the air, it was as if someone had plugged me in just when my battery had dropped to 5%. I lit up, perked up, and began singing as if my lungs had been made for that very moment.
Which leads me to another question, one I know the answer to but will ask anyway: Why play so many new songs? There’s an unmistakable drop in the audience’s energy during tracks such as “Cover Me” and “Corrupt.” Not to be all “back in my day,” but one reason that tours during the band’s heyday (which I consider to be 1984-1995, although I’m sure I’ll receive some flak for that) were so much more enjoyable is because there was less filler — their albums back then rarely had a turkey, which meant the setlists never had a dud. Is it too much to hope that one day Depeche will tour with an only-the-best (and-perhaps-some-neglected-favorites-like-“Stories-of-Old”) setlist? Probably.
But here’s a request that can be easily granted: Dave, please, please, just stop with the t-shirt gun. One measly shirt in a crowd of fans? With prices at the merch booth as high as they are, you can afford an arsenal, so unless your shooting your Hublot watches out of that thing, it seems like an inadequate gesture.
See you in Berlin, fellas. I need a second set of cups.