Depeche Mode At Madison Square Garden, Saturday, September 9th, 2017. Reviewed
Watching Dave Gahan wiggle his ass and blast out his baritone in vest, smudged eyeliner and a pencil thin moustache, he is like the most fortunate of god’s children, he swirls and unfurls, his arms out, digging himself, digging his band, very much digging his home team advantage. Depeche Mode -the 80s synth band he leads while Martin Gore writes the majority of the songs, are behind him, and the fans respond as well to the five songs off DM’s tedious Spirit, as they do of anything but the biggest hits of the evening. Dave survived a childhood that goes way beyond soap opera, filled to overflowing juvenile detention, overdoses and suicide attempts, three marriages, two divorces, and a stardom that began in his teens and is still strong 35 years later. Gahan’s fourteenth DM album and umptenth concert finds the band at a peak and enjoying home team advantage at Madison Square Garden last night, he ruled the arena with a firm grip on the band dynamic and the audience’s needs. He allowed the audience to sing till their hearts fell out:
“The grabbing hands
Grab all they can
in large amounts”
The lyric is a contraction of the chorus to “Everything Counts,” and after ten years in New York City he grasped the moment, the mood, and the need of MSG, and let them vent. It was the best moment in a concert that was excellent on its own terms -a Goth industrial synth electronic knees up, stuck with some of the least interesting songs known to man. With “Everything Counts,” along with the newly minted “Where’s The Revolution” (“Come on people, you’re letting me down”), Depeche Mode caught the zeitgeist and figured out how to present it, the harsh your vibe malcontent momentum of DM is perfect for the every person for himself and god against all summer of 2017. As hurricanes hit the States with the thump of a Trump presidency, DM’s heavy beat sound, refined over decades (“Everything Counts” sounds much better today than in 1992) is the clasped heartbeat of betrayal.
Having said all that, and giving a tip of the cap to “Enjoy The Silence” and “Personal Jesus,” Depeche Mode’s material is mostly and at best second tier and it hurts the band immensely; it is extremely difficult to buy into their negative vibe emotional fault lines and dissipated politics; Gore is great at mood and tempo but time after time fails on the completeness of it all. On the first song of the evening “Going Backwards” Gore steals a Stones “woohoo” a la “Sympathy For The Devil” to impart catchiness on a tough lyric to sing, the banal
We are not there yet
We have lost our soul
The course has been set
We’re digging our own hole
We’re going backwards
Armed with new technology
Is that what’s happening?
Meanwhile, with one of the top close circuit TVs anywhere at DM’s disposal, they showed either animation from their album, or original films by Anton Corbijn, instead of the group in action. When they used the closed circuit TV (none of it anywhere but the main stage, though I count a dozen monitors dotted throughout the arena), both Gore and Gahan looked creepy; Gahan has been called one of the great lead singers, but I don’t see it at all, he weirds me out, he looks like a feral rat. Apparently, I am the wrong sex to dig him the least credible sex symbol this side of Kid Rock, because here is Washington Times’ critic Erica Bruce reviewing DM’s DC gig: “Mr. Gore’s choirboy lead vocals on “Somebody” and “A Question of Lust” made the ladies next to me swoon (“He’s so cute!” they yelled during the latter), while Mr. Gahan’s growling lead on songs like “World in My Eyes” and “I Feel You” still makes your breath catch with lust.” Both Gahan and Gore suffer from the Robert Smith/Marilyn Manson horror of having to wear the same clothes and the same haircuts well past the time when they should have been put in mothballs.
Even so, even if, even where you have never had any time for Depeche Mode, and would rather see Alison Moyet (I know, but she’s playing next week and it is only one degree of separation) any day, it was a good performance that gave the audience what they wanted. No “People Are People” (picked up as a LGBTQ theme back in the day) when I saw em, but a brisk, intelligent two hours of mediocre or worse songs. Gahan is a survivor and a winner, Gahan is so cool he started his career covering David Bowie, and became friends with him when their children went to the same school. He has done a masterful job of steadying his life, and his reward is the best music of his career.