Concert Review: Depeche Mode Dazzles the Santa Barbara Bowl

(L-R) Andy Fletcher, Dave Gahan, and Martin Gore comprise Depeche Mode, which recently made a tour stop on October 2nd at the Santa Barbara Bowl in Santa Barbara, CA. Album art by Anton Corbijn

There are many ways to describe the genre of galvanizing music that Depeche Mode plays, but one thing is for certain: they’re just as exciting to watch and listen to 37 years since their inception.

Lead singer Dave Gahan, guitarist and primary songwriter Martin L. Gore, and keyboardist Andrew Fletcher have rolled out 14 studio albums, and sold over 100 million copies to legions of adoring fans who can’t get enough of their pulsating electronic-rock music.

A photo of Dave Gahan during Depeche Mode's Global Spirit Tour

Lead singer Dave Gahan performs the opening number (“Going Backwards”) during Depeche Mode’s Global Spirit Tour, which is still ongoing. Photo credit: Katja Ogrin

Their newest album is Spirit, and their ongoing Global Spirit Tour, which made a stop at the sold-out Santa Barbara Bowl on October 2nd, is rife with familiar sights and sounds, while also owing to a prosperous future that still beckons the British band, now joined by keyboardist Peter Gordeno and drummer Christian Eigner.

Impassioned fans — amounting to a capacity audience of 5,000 at the historic venue – were ebullient and oftentimes frenzied throughout the 22-song set, which also features an ode to David Bowie with “Heroes.”

Yet, this occasion was not like any other, as a heavy pall hung over the air due to the passing of Tom Petty, and particularly the tragic atrocity that happened only a day prior in Las Vegas, where Depeche Mode had performed on Saturday, September 30th. Certainly, this was not lost on the performers comprising the evening’s festivities, including Warpaint, the talented all-female band, who opened the show.

The concert, overall, was a reminder to continue unencumbered by fear, and to surrender to the joys of experiencing live music, in this case by one of the most celebrated groups of all-time, who invited attendees to live vicariously through the invigorating experience they created. And, at the very least, the members of Depeche Mode proved to be the consummate professionals they are by carrying on despite everything.

Doubtless to say, they went above and beyond in spades. As the inimitable frontman, 55-year-old Dave Gahan — who is initially clad in a red jacket before stripping down to a black/red vest — is as young as he’s ever been. He moves with an effortlessly sinuous motion around the stage, galloping and posing with an overflowingly infectious charisma. There’s nobody quite like the theatrical Gahan, who can ham it up if necessary, be playful, and then, within a moment’s notice, demand our attention with viscerally earnest portrayals, beginning with “Going Backwards” (from Spirit).

Gahan’s voice is in excellent form, underscored by a sonorous timbre that has a great depth and substance to it, which is perhaps why he is a tenor who paradoxically sounds like a baritone at times. Moreover, his richly textured resonance never attenuates, which is all the more impressive given that he is tirelessly shuffling his feet, spinning balletically, bending his body in many directions, swaying his arms, and skipping across and behind the LED-gilded stage at a blistering rate that measures several miles by the night’s end.

A photo of Martin L. Gore during Depeche Mode's Global Spirit Tour

Martin L. Gore of Depeche Mode performs during the band’s Global Spirit Tour. Photo credit: Daniel Barassi

Gahan also has the gift of adapting his vocal tonality to song lyrics, one example of which is during “Corrupt,” when he spices up the sensually powerful words with snarls and gasps. With “Where’s the Revolution” – Spirit’s first single – Gahan infuses his tone with an urgent quality that is provocative, as in when he good-naturedly challenges the audience with the lyric, “Come on, people/You’re letting me down.”

Of course, Gahan is still as compelling as ever when singing the group’s ever-growing compendium of hits. Gahan’s booming vibrato evocatively resounds during “World in My Eyes,” “Enjoy the Silence” (performed to an amusing video backdrop of various animals), “Walking in My Shoes,” the more-relevant-than-ever “Stripped,” the crowd-pleasing “Everything Counts,” “Personal Jesus” (which accentuates Eigner’s stellar drum-playing), and the arm-swingingly cathartic “Never Let Me Down Again.” Furthermore, his voice and presence lend themselves very well to a worthwhile rendition of “Heroes,” where Gahan even shows off the upper part of his range with crystal-clear, heady notes.

In comparison to Gahan, Gore is much more understated as it relates to his on-stage personality, even though his lavish attire over the years has generally spoken volumes. Nonetheless, the Essex-born musician, and current resident of Santa Barbara, who had a homecoming of sorts on October 2nd, comes across as charmingly demure.

Gore consistently wins over the crowd with his raw talent, and as the band’s unwavering wizard, orchestrates much of the proceedings from his spot on the stage. Not to mention, his guitar riffs have become legendary (e.g., “Never Let Me Down Again, “Corrupt”), as have his little vocal touches that bolster Depeche Mode’s live presentation. For instance, he harmonizes the high parts very effectively with Gahan on songs like “In Your Room,” coming in and out with uncanny timing. And, when called upon, he can bashfully absorb the spotlight for riveting solo performances of “A Question of Lust” (featuring a nice keyboard accompaniment by Gordeno), “Home,” and “Somebody.”

What makes Gore’s predominantly falsetto style so appealing is how well it complements Gahan’s broodingly rousing tone. Gore is able to liltingly emote a sense of seeming hurt in his notes, culled from the depths of his heart. The poignancy of his vocal expression forthrightly enthralls us, allowing for an emotional awakening.

A photo of Andrew Fletcher during Depeche Mode's Global Spirit Tour

Andrew Fletcher of Depeche Mode performs during the band’s Global Spirit Tour. Photo credit: Daniel Barassi

Last, but not least, Fletcher continues to be the steady rock of the band offstage and on, where he unassumingly plays his role to perfection in the corner, agreeably standing back as Gore and Gahan assume the responsibility of interacting with the audience. In fact, Depeche Mode absolutely needs Fletcher to be the trio that it has become (since Alan Wilder left), which is representative of an emboldened and energetic force that combines both nostalgia and contemporaneity.

Best of all, the venerable band will always satisfy the cravings for a rollicking concert experience. From start to finish, they build on a feverish momentum that climaxes with the ultimate crescendo, hooking the insatiable concert-goer, who can’t wait to see what is next.

Depeche Mode has seven more concert dates in California – on October 6th at the Mattress Firm Amphitheatre in San Diego; on October 8th at the SAP Center in San Jose; on October 10th at the Oracle Arena in Oakland; and on October 12th, 14th, 16th, and 18th at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles.

For more information about upcoming tour dates and how to purchase tickets, please visit DepecheMode.com


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