Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
September 24, 2017
Depeche Mode effectively divided Sunday’s Woodlands stop of their Global Spirit Tour into two halves, each one dominated by a different side of the group’s persona. But it was hardly a clean break; one could not exist without the other. The first introduced the brooding, arty group that has been chasing the horizons of electronic music for nearly four decades, and offers a bleak outlook on current global affairs on its latest album, Spirit.
The second belonged to the flamboyant arena-rock showmen (or showman, really) who have a nearly peerless grasp of crowd dynamics. They understand the right moment to take things down to a solo piano ballad, but can whip up a frenzy of clapping hands, stamping feet and deafening singalongs just a few songs later.
The dividing line was the oldest song in the set, 1983’s “Everything Counts,” in which Depeche Mode refracts some early lessons learned into the irresistible refrain “the grabbing hands, grab all they can/ Everything counts in large amounts.” Up until that point, the group had enthralled the audience with minor hits and new material for nearly an hour, something that would likely vex even some of their few remaining peers like U2 or The Cure.
Of course it didn’t hurt that many early selections happened to showcase Depeche Mode at their most sensual and erotic (“Barrel of a Gun,” “In Your Room,” “A Pain That I’m Used To”), or that the new songs showed little loss of continuity from vintage DM — longtime fans should have easily recognized in “So Much Love” the same naked urgency as “A Question of Time,” for example. Others highlighted the disappearing boundaries between politics and personal affairs in our ideologically charged age, heard in the intermingling anger and vulnerability of “Corrupt” or the bitter “Poison Heart,” a sort of postmodern torch song that scorns an unfaithful lover, blighted political system, or both.
At the other end of the spectrum, front man Dave Gahan went peak lizard-king on “World In My Eyes,” hand strategically finding his groin just when the lyrics arrived at the line “that’s all there is.” It was a wonderful tension-breaker; we all probably needed a good laugh at that point. A short time later, Gahan’s fellow DM co-founder Martin L. Gore took center stage for a much less cynical interlude, singing the heartfelt “A Question of Lust” and “Home” while Gahan bounded off in search of a less sweat-soaked waistcoat.
(Meanwhile, stationed on one of two keyboard risers, third co-founder Andrew Fletcher remained inscrutable in black shades and matching pullover; touring retainers Peter Gordeno and Christian Eigner did yeoman’s work all night on keyboards/bass and drums, respectively.)
After “Everything Counts,” which found the 55-year-old Gahan twirling about the stage like a Royal Ballet principal 30 years his junior, “Stripped” reached back to Black Celebration with blooming Tangerine Dream synths and a harsh percussive attack. “Enjoy the Silence” and “Never Let Me Down Again” then closed the main set with a series of textbook rock-concert maneuvers — Gahan pointing his microphone stand at the audience, the audience panning left and right with their smartphones, everyone more or less losing their minds. The highlight of the encore was a lovingly rendered David Bowie’s “Heroes,” at least until “Personal Jesus” made the place go ballistic. When Gahan sings “reach out, touch faith,” he’s not kidding around.
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The line that lingers, though, had come earlier in the night, during “A Question of Lust,” when Gore sang about “not letting what we’ve built up crumble to dust.” His words may have been addressed to a lover on the album — also Black Celebration, as it happens — but Sunday they seemed to apply just as well to the musical bond he, Gahan and Fletcher have forged through these thirtysomething years. Or, just as much, the bond between Depeche Mode and their fans.
So Much Love
Barrel of a Gun
A Pain That I’m Used to
In Your Room
World In My Eyes
A Question of Lust
Where’s the Revolution
Enjoy the Silence
Never Let Me Down Again
Walking In My Shoes
Heroes (David Bowie cover)
I Feel You