Depeche Mode played San Antonio last night, Nov 9th. The show perfectly met all the criteria of an aging band trying to promote their new album: A too generous helping of new songs followed by the crowd pleasing greatest hits show. The performance was all around excellent and worth seeing.
It was the sixth stop on the Playing the Angel tour, the band’s first tour since 2001 to support the Exciter album. By city #6, it was evident the show was well rehearsed and polished, but not yet stale. The band members tried to keep the performance fresh, despite using the same set list (see below) for every other stop on the tour. As everything was pretty well scripted, there was very little audience engagement outside the songs. The continual challenge for any band with over two and a half decades of experience is to keep the show new and bring it excitement. Depeche Mode did a great job playing the part, whether or not the excitement actually existed.
Technically the show was almost flawless. The sound was clear and balanced almost perfectly excepting a few minor flaws. The lights added to, but didn’t distract from the show. Each song had its own “light theme” executed with perfect timing, clearly rehearsed many times before. The set took an “Alien”/”Heavenly” theme, with the sleek white synth stations like control decks out of a bad Star Trek rip off. On the side of the stage there was a giant “orb” that would change to different word combinations (like Angel, Sex, Enjoy, Love, Vice, Pain, etc) for each song. The centerpiece of the set was a “broken” projection screen effect that consisted of around eight screens overlapping each other at odd angles. The screens sometimes worked in tandem, and sometimes used inventive camera shots. For instance, one screen would have a close up shot of Martin, while another screen had a shot of Dave singing in front of the screen showing Martin. The effect was very nice.
Not too surprisingly the band all came Dressed in Black, with Martin sporting a black winter hat (the kind that goes over the ears) with a black yarn Mohawk on top, and Dave losing his clothes with each successive song.
To the music… Like all good older acts Depeche Mode opened with “A Pain That I’m Used To,” the first song on the new album. Songs from Playing the Angel pretty much dominated the first half of the show. “A Question Time” and “Policy of Truth” broke up the series new songs and got the crowd excited. During the former, Dave did his trademark spin and it really riled up the audience. “Walking in My Shoes” followed, and was definitely the best performance in the first half of the show.
The pace slowed down when Martin came out to do his songs. He started with “Damaged People,” which was a decent performance of a mediocre song. “Home” was really the highlight of Martin’s time. Although it was missing some of the depth live strings would have provided; it was a moving performance, with and awed silent attention from the crowd.
After finishing out the last of the Angel songs, Depeche Mode shifted gears to the second half of the night with “I Feel You.” It was apparent that not only that the audience was having more fun with the older songs, but that the band was as well. “Personal Jesus” was most noteworthy because the audience fill-in technique Dave had been using all night finally panned out with the audience chanting, “Reach out, touch faith.” “Enjoy the Silence” was easily the best performance of the night, with an extended performance and an incredible amount of energy from both sides of the stage.
The encores weren’t shabby either. Martin gave a perfect “Somebody” rendition, and Dave followed with the fun 1981 hit, “Just Can’t Get Enough.” Following was easily the 2nd best performance of the evening, “Everything Counts.” What made it so great was the band’s obvious indelible connection to the song, and the obligatory audience fill-in at the end. The second encore started with a great job of “Never Let Me Down Again,” and the soulful Martin and Dave duet “Goodnight Lovers,” in which the whole band sang together at the end.
Although Depeche Mode was long past their performance peak, for what you would expect 15 years down the road, the show was wholly excellent and largely unforgettable. See them if you have a chance. (Rating 8/10)
A Pain That I’m Used To
John the Revelator
A Question of Time
Policy of Truth
Walking in My Shoes
I Want It All
The Sinner in Me
Interlude > I Feel You
Behind the Wheel
World in My Eyes
Enjoy the Silence
Just Can’t Get Enough
Never Let Me Down Again