Better Than: Any other show I've been to this year -- seriously.
There are reasons why Depeche Mode is so often called "critic-proof." The group's performance this past Saturday night at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise was, in a word, transcendent. That sounds like hyperbole, but ask any of the nearly 20,000 people in attendance that night. The performance drew its strength from a simple, powerful stage show; flawless, haunting renditions of its classic material; and of course, the adoration of those 20,000.
Frontman Dave Gahan, synth-pop's brooding pin-up, is still shamanic in his focused intensity, and despite a very recent battle with a bladder tumor, looks fit and shiny. Songwriter and guitarist Martin Gore's presence is more understated, but no less dramatic. It is in Gore, with his silver sequined three-piece suit, seemingly eyebrow-less face, and sighing, dramatic vocal deliveries that the influence of David Bowie is most strongly felt.
And the performance made a strong case for Depeche Mode as a still
vital band, rather than a moldy-oldies revue. There were several live renditions of cuts from the band's latest album, Sounds
of the Universe -- although, of course, eventually came the big hits.
But before all that was an opening set by Swedish indie rock favorites Peter Bjorn and John, although it seemed almost like an afterthought. The band was sent onstage precisely at 8 p.m., played their biggest hit, "Young Folks," by about 8:15, and was done by 8:30. Frontman Peter Moren's voice truly sounds that Scandinavian and sweetly reedy in real life, and yes, there were live congas too. But the band couldn't really seem to own that space -- although Moren leaped into the audience and climbed up several rows of seats at the end of his set.
Mostly, they seemed a victim of South Florida's infamous tardiness, with over half of the seats still empty at this point. Well, the set was still a bonus before the real attraction of the evening. And after about an hour of increasingly thumping minimal techno, and a few false-start dimmings of the house lights, it was time.
And in front of a skyscraper-size LED screen entered Depeche Mode, Gahan last, in a dapper tonic suit and a rockabilly-esque quiff. With no introduction -- was any needed? -- he launched into the lead track off Sounds of the Universe, "In Chains," and kicked off a nearly two-hour performance. Maybe it was my proximity to the stage, my longtime fixation on the band, or the lights frying my brain, but what followed was otherworldly. Gahan, Gore, and company managed to enthrall an arena without pyrotechnics or choreographed moves, just a simple, shifting backdrop of vaguely creepy video set to match the tone of each song. The staging was spare but epic, and it seemed as though the light was emanating from the musicians themselves.
Not that the band members just stood there -- not by a long shot. Gahan busted out some snaky hip moves, and eventually ecstatically tossed aside the jacket. Gore himself took center stage a few times, accompanied only by his guitar and a keyboardist. "Shake the Disease" was turned particularly poignant, becoming a slow, torch song-style entreaty.
If Depeche Mode's music on record can be detached, even cold, the actual atmosphere at this show was one of pure joy. Whenever Gahan performed a nimble little microphone-stand twirl, the audience roared. And if you have ever felt like a person with singular, solitary, very important problems -- try getting wrapped up in a singalong to "Enjoy the Silence" in a crowd of thousands. The ant-like sensation is both existential and life-affirming.
As for song specifics, see the set list below. Sure, several big-time singles were noticeably absent -- no "People are People" or "Everything Counts," to name a couple, nor my least favorite Depeche Mode song, "Just Can't Get Enough." But the band was still about crowd-pleasing. The final, final encore? "Personal Jesus," of course. Some things are sacred.
Personal Bias: I was thwarted in my last attempt to see this band, one of my absolute all-time favorites -- hurricane damage canceled the band's last scheduled show at this venue, back in the fall of 2005. They could have showed up and done anything and I would have found it amazing. Plus, I have just burned incense and made offerings to whichever beneficent media ticket gods smiled upon me for this gig. (Thank you, thank you, thank you.)
Random Detail: Just how enthusiastic was this crowd? A girl a few rows in front of me vigorously shook a pair of red pom-poms for most of the show.
By the Way: It sounded, at least, like Peter, Bjorn and John announced at the end of their set that they were returning to South Florida eventually to headline their own show.... But I didn't catch an actual date or venue, and couldn't find anything on their web sites, Pollstar, etc. to confirm this. Can someone set the record straight on this?
-"Hole to Feed"
-"Walking in My Shoes"
-"It's No Good"
-"Question of Time"
-"Fly on the Windscreen"
-"A Question of Lust"
-"Miles Away/The Truth is"
-"Policy of Truth"
-"In Your Room"
-"I Feel You"
-"Enjoy the Silence"
-"Never Let Me Down Again"
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-"Shake the Disease"
-"Behind the Wheel"