Published on November 2nd, 2017 | by Craig Silliphant0
Concert Review: Depeche Mode (Oct 27, 2017 – Edmonton)
Depeche Mode is touring through North America right now — we caught them in Edmonton, Alberta on October 27th. A good show, though not mindblowing.
A few people seemed surprised when I told them I was going to Edmonton to see Depeche Mode live. They were surprised that Depeche Mode was still a thing and that they’d have enough fans to hold the show at Rogers Centre. I wasn’t sure what the confusion was about — they are a global brand whose best albums have held up well over time. As far as I know, they’re still reasonably relevant.
Their music is dark and kinky, imbued with meaning, but also accessible and dancey enough for the pop set. They’ve found a really balanced sweet spot to exist in. Their new album, ‘Spirit,’ doesn’t reach the heights of ‘Music for the Masses,’ ‘Violator,’ or ‘Songs of Faith and Devotion,’ but it’s an excellent, politically charged late era record.
Overall, Depeche Mode sounded great at the show; they were tight and focused, and Dave Gahan’s vocals have stood the test of time, including some of the rougher patches of drug abuse that he’s been through since they made it big. Gahan whirled and pranced around stage, punching his fist into the air, full of energy, though looking a bit gaunt, like a meth head Freddie Mercury (with a little John Waters moustache).
There were several missteps, however. One complaint I heard was that they didn’t play enough of their classic songs, instead favouring their new record. I had leaned into ‘Spirit’ well before the show, so I was familiar with a lot of the songs. Unless a band is known for being a bit more experimental live, like Crazy Horse or even Bob Dylan, I always find this kind of setlist shenanigans to be willfully ignorant. Yes, we know you’re tired of playing the old songs and you’re excited about the new ones. But how much do the fans that are paying to see the show matter? Hey, it’s your show, but you need to at least find a good balance. I remember seeing Tom Petty a few years back — he played four new tracks and then two hours of classic songs, both hits and deeper cuts. This seemed a good compromise. Like I said, Depeche Mode’s reliance on ‘Spirit’ didn’t bother me specifically, but I heard some complaints, so it’s worth pointing out.
What did bother me was that they played ‘Enjoy the Silence,’ but only really sang half of it. Dave Gahan left the vocal duties up to the audience on that one. I don’t know if he hates that song or something, but it was weird. A bit of audience participation is fine, expected even, but having them sing most of one of your biggest hits is bunk. I didn’t pay $100.00 to see a bunch of strangers sing one of my favourite Depeche Mode songs — I paid to see the band play it.
Martin Gore also raised some eyebrows with his strange, maudlin renditions of a few songs, no doubt sung to give Gahan a break and to say, “Hey! I’m a singer too!” He has a nice enough voice, but he had such an intense vibrato and delivery (usually sung comically over a sad sounding piano), that we kept making Ethel Merman ‘jazz hands’ jokes during these few songs. Gore is supremely talented — my wife pointed out that he writes almost all the songs — but shoehorning him in to perform show tunes was off-putting.
The only truly terrible moment though, was their cover of Bowie’s ‘Heroes,’ a song I’m already not a fan of. Their version of it was sloppy and out of tune, as if they couldn’t hear each other or something. Drop that one, guys. Yipes.
I’m not meaning to sound so negative about this show — I did enjoy it. But I guess that I had more gripes about it than stand out, blow you away moments to talk about. For most of the concert, they sounded at the top of their form and they were certainly not phoning in their performance. A good portion of the audience was definitely into it. I suppose I wasn’t over the moon about it. Perhaps those people are bigger Depeche Mode fans than I am. If the best thing I could say about it is, “Well, I wasn’t ever bored, I guess,” then that tells me something. And if I think of some of the best shows I’ve seen in the last couple of years, like say, Mono or Sturgill Simpson, I can’t tell myself that it was that kind of intense musical experience. I had fun, they sounded awesome, but it’s not a band I would rush out to see again.