Just Can’t Get Enough: 30 Years of Listening Live to Depeche Mode

In a tiny town in the middle of nowhere, at the end of the world — there I was with 70,000 other Depeche Mode fans. We danced, sang, laughed, cried, swayed in unison, and remembered. It was the first day of the Vieilles Charrues Music Festival, July 19th, 2018, in Carhaix-Plouguer, Brittany, France, and very close to the end of Depeche’s Global Spirit Tour.

The Depeche Mode stage at Vieilles Charreus Music Festival, July 2018
Throngs waiting in front of the Depeche Mode stage at Vieilles Charrues Music Festival, July 2018
Global Spirit Tour, 2017-2018 promotional poster
Global Spirit Tour, 2017-2018 promotional poster

This was thirty years and one month since my first Depeche Mode live concert — the Music For the Masses Tour culmination at Pasadena’s Rose Bowl — June of 1988, in California, United States.

That concert mini-festival, so iconic in my distant memory, turns out had only 60,000 people in attendance. It’s well known as the key content of the “Depeche Mode 101” live album and documentary, a day that also featured Thomas Dolby, and OMD (Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark), both of whom are also touring this year, and still making music.

Depeche Mode had been active for eight years by the time I caught up with them for that 1988 show. I was late fan, but had both their first hits compilation Catching Up With Depeche Mode (1985), and of course Music For the Masses (1987), in my music library.

Music For the Masses Tour promotional poster
Music For the Masses Tour, 1988 promotional poster

Black Celebration (1986) had been the introduction made to me by an intriguing boy, who decades later would become my husband. We celebrated our later-in-life engagement by finally seeing Depeche Mode together at the Hollywood Bowl, in August 2009, for their Tour of the Universe.

That marriage didn’t last, but I got to marry the love of my life, the man who had lit some of the very first fires of my personal passions by exposing me to some incredible English music artists, my gateway drug to a pool of acts that easily represent my teenage years (with a whole lot of Prince, Madonna, and Janet Jackson thrown in).

Tour of the Universe, 2009 promotional poster
Tour of the Universe, 2009 promotional poster

These were bands embodying the New Romantics, or its venn-diagramed genre known in the U.S. as the Second Invasion, or, New Wave — like Adam & the Ants, The Police, Duran Duran, Culture Club, The Cure, The Eurythmics, Billy Idol, Tears For Fears, Siouxsie & the Banshees, or Brit soul singers like George Michael and Sade.

Many of these acts were just barely starting to get airplay in the U.S. in the mid-80’s, specifically by Richard Blade, a DJ on my local KROQ radio station in Los Angeles, to whom I’m also forever grateful. I was and still am inspired, influenced, and immensely entertained by all of these artists to this day.

Devotional Tour, 1993 promotional poster
Devotional Tour, 1993 promotional poster

I caught up my second time with Depeche Mode at the Great Western Forum in Los Angeles, 1993, for the Devotional Tour, where they took us to church with what may be my favorite DM album, Songs of Faith & Devotion (1993). Apparently this was dubbed “The Most Debauched Rock ‘n’ Roll Tour Ever” by the U.K.’s Q Magazine, though to be dorkily honest, little to none of that lifestyle has ever touched me.

While today I wear mostly black (because it all matches and I’m a lot of personality anyway without color to emphasize that), I’ve never been goth, never done heroin, never used my backstage passes for anything other than photography, never been taken in by industrial music fans for loving the relative bubblegum pop of the industrial genre, and maybe never slept with a musician I’d met after watching them perform.

I simply love this band’s music. It didn’t corrupt me, it never defined me, but I’ve flown across the great pond spending many days in travel there and back to see them perform live again in front of my face with those unmistakeable sounds vibrating through my body.

It’s not for everybody. Depeche Mode, as a synthesizer and (originally) drum machine-driven melodic industrio-pop band, is the lovechild of David Bowie and Kraftwerk. It’s frontman, Dave Gahan, is the love child of Elvis Presley and Mick Jagger, and his harmonies along with songwriter Martin L. Gore, are as precious and unduplicatable to me as Fleetwood Mac’s are with the combined voices of Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, and Christine McVie.

Depeche Mode has been described as electronica, goth, alternative rock, dance rock, progressive synth-pop, avant-garde, techno, etc. Their tones are heavy and their lyrics often dark. Their beats can be jarring if you’re not ready to move along with them on those well-machined tides. And their image as performers, for all of these thirty plus years, has been bizarre. Frankly if you’ve never been down for some serious marathon club dancing, like in the depths of Berlin, London, Tokyo, and Los Angeles — or at the north-western tip of France in the deep countryside — then Depeche Mode, a band as famous for its bottomless well of remixes as its epic performances, is more than likely not your cup of tea.

Vieilles Charreus Music Festival, July 2018
Vieilles Charrues Music Festival, July 2018

For me, the key characteristic of Depeche Mode’s lyrics, rhythms, and tones is their sensuality. The work portrays heightened dramatic passion — perfect for a teenager’s era of emerging (yet alternately squashed and exploding) sexuality, but absolutely reflective of mature and complex themes to do with love, death, fear, obsession, addiction, and difficult politics. To this day, it is my favorite music to enjoy both deeply intense battling-animal lovemaking, and a really long road trip, not necessarily simultaneously.

There are rock stars that tweaked my sex response with the combination of their music and the way they looked — whether because I fantasized bedding them, or because I wanted to be like them, or both. For me, Depeche Mode has never been one of them. Even when I was sixteen and Gahan and Gore and Fletcher were in their mid-twenties, they weren’t torn out of Teen Beat and put on my wall. Too slight, too boyish, too outlandish for my limited world exposure at that point. But those voices. Their combined voices have been ranked amongst the best rock voices in the world, and Dave Gahan on stage is one of the best, most watchable frontmen that ever lived.

Some things have changed in his performance over the decades, and some haven’t. I’ve been tempted for years to make a several-minutes-long video of Dave shouting “THANK YOU!” (read: thANk YAOoo!!) at the end of his songs from concerts spanning his career. Here again a few days ago, there was the same unmistakable Dave Gahan thank you, and I never tire of it. Also the same and in effect, his signature move — spinning in a circle. Either with the mic stand, or with arms outstretched, he’s a windmill spun by the cacophonic energy of massive (and massively adoring) audiences.

Very different from Dave’s early stage presence is the dial-reading on his flamboyance. Dave and Martin have always been so metrosexual in manner and costume as to question their sexuality (when “questioning” was what was done). These days, I’d just think of their sexuality/gender image as fluid and go on with my day until I heard something definitive out of their mouths. And then I’d just be like, “cool”, whatever the story.

Dave Gahan with his son surprisingly very close, if not on, my seat for the Consert For the Masses, 1998 [credit: unknown]
Dave Gahan with his son, surprisingly very close to, if not on, my seat for the Concert For the Masses, 1998 [credit: unknown]
If I were to assess Dave Gahan’s sexual identity as measured to the times and then the advancing years, I would look back and at first see a likely gay (I turned out to be somewhat or completely wrong on this), intensely talented boy holding himself back a bit on stage, reigning it in while still being wonderfully compelling. He was super geeky at first, but always vocally confident, and by the Concert For the Masses, he was a young man that knew he was a sex icon.

In the Devotional Tour era, Gahan was stricken with a heavier Jesus complex than usual (see the included video below for “World In My Eyes”). And it wasn’t just the long hair, beard, and the singing of the mega international still-popular hit, “Personal Jesus”. All the arms-outstretched poses were hard to swallow in combination with increased at-the-audience bum slithering, but at the same time, I admit confidence and extreme ego, married with extreme talent, is somehow, and annoyingly, extremely sexy. He was extremely sexy. A little scary too, especially making those concern-inducing stage dives (see “In Your Room” below), but damn it, sexy.

Depeche Mode performes at Vieilles Charreus Music Festival, July 2018
Dave Gahan blowing me a kiss, at Vieilles Charrues Music Festival, July 2018

Today, I see Mick Jagger’s love child giving absolutely zero fucks about enforcing an imagined form of maleness on himself. He’s now flamboyant light years beyond fey in his Global Spirt Tour mode, powerfully so, with every gesture, posture, and expression on maximum for the cheap seats. There are no micro expressions here, no moments of vague introspection.

Gahan’s sex-positive poses and insinuations are on overdrive as he prances in full-tilt celebration of his hard-earned rock-godliness. He invites giggles with his tongue-in-cheek winks, as if to say at the same time, this is no tongue-in-cheek, lovelies, no simple wink of the eye. He invites bathing in the thick wafts of his testosterone, as his sweat flicks endlessly off his body and hair, and his hands land on and embrace the cock under his pants with the aplomb of a man who left coyness well behind decades ago.

Yet don’t ask me what’s up with the pencil-stache, I couldn’t tell you. But, you do you, Dave. I’ll clearly buy a ticket.

Likewise for Martin Gore and his go-to S&M-inspired costumes that may be permanently in the past since several tours ago. He didn’t really do anything in them on stage, not besides play the guitar, the keyboards, and sing like an ANGEL. He just wore them, and sometimes strange hats, or most apropos for the Playing the Angel Tour — angel wings. Lately, and for the Global Spirit Tour, he’s kept it pretty tame. This time just a white suit vest and white suit slacks, and silver football stripes across his cheeks topped with charcoaled lids. Nothing on this occasion to particularly make me think — what were you thinking, Martin? Perhaps he’s settling down in his midlife. But I did like the black angel wings. And I’ll always love that trademark bleached-blonde top-fro, however he wears it.

Being closer to the stage than ever before for this act, I saw something I pray has always been there, or was present in at least most of their stage experiences. Dave Gahan and Martin L. Gore, along with the still relatively tame-by-comparison Andy Fletcher, who’s been with them from the beginning, and Christian Eigner (drums) and Peter Gordeno (keyboards) who have been with DM since oh-my-god 1997(!), seem to genuinely enjoy and appreciate performing together. Their hugs and smiles at the end of the concert reveal a group that absolutely loves what they’re doing.

Depeche Mode takes a bow at Vieilles Charreus Music Festival, July 2018
Depeche Mode takes a bow at Vieilles Charrues Music Festival, July 2018

Perhaps I’m a bit surprised. I know from years of interviews they’re not collectively dear friends off stage, and that really it’s Gahan being quite the separatist. Why a musician smiling a fully authentic deep-from-within smile seems to enhance a performance experience for me so significantly, I don’t know; but it does, and it did.

The video imagery displayed for Depeche Mode’s concerts, as I remember from the Devotional Tour forward, has always been striking. And always so very odd; absurdist really. I’ve never been sure if their video projections exactly enhanced the overall experience for me beyond providing enlarged closeups of the musicians themselves, until this tour in three particular cases. Perhaps I’m just not a fan of absurdist art.

For “Cover Me”, a rare and beautifully excellent Dave Gahan-penned piece, there were snips of the video (included below) for this song, and it’s probably one of my top favorite DM videos ever. It features Gahan walking through the alleys of Venice, California, a nook of my hometown Los Angeles, still in the space suit he used to travel to another world, finding it was the same as the one he’d left.

For “In Your Room”, what for me is the sexiest of Depeche Mode’s songs, there was a video depicting a contemporary dance with the intensity of the paso doble, performed by two beautiful people, one wearing beautiful red lips, starting from a beautiful red couch, then pushing and pulling throughout the room. Hot.

And for “Walking in My Shoes”, possibly my very favorite Depeche Mode song, the concert-only video depicts a transgender woman waking, getting ready to go out, and stepping out in full work-a-day-fabulous regalia. I have a soft-spot pride for trans people who own their identity harder and walk it more proudly than I will have ever been brave enough to own my own (except maybe for that period in my twenties, still fresh from the theatre academy). I mean really I’m Caitlin Jenner, without the fitness, the fortune, and without the oddly counter-intuitive politics, nor the time on my hands to walk out the door as fabulous as I actually am on the inside.

This video was shot beautifully, and though the song itself doesn’t have to be about being trans and likely hadn’t been written about being trans, what an incredibly poignant application of the song’s earnest resignation in likely never being fully understood and accepted. I see you.

“I’m not looking for a clearer conscience
Peace of mind after what I’ve been through
And before we talk of any repentance
Try walking in my shoes
You’ll stumble in my footsteps
Keep the same appointments I kept
Try walking in my shoes
Now I’m not looking for absolution
Forgiveness for the things I do
But before you come to any conclusions
Try walking in my shoes”  —Depeche Mode, “Walking In My Shoes”

Experiences I’ll never forget seeing Depeche Mode live…

  • the impatient arena-wide food fight before the band’s entrance at the Rose Bowl, and later the magical rain that seemed to be stage-managed and synced perfectly by God with the light show for the Concert of the Masses;
  • the incredible night following the Devotional Tour concert, inspired by the music and performances of the Devotional Tour concert;
  • holding the hand of a man I’d loved for twenty years at the Tour of the Universe;
  • and celebrating our divorce by changing my name on the day of my first Global Spirit Tour concert;
  • and finally, by myself, traveling perhaps way too far with my wanderlust-tainted global spirit, to see a band that moves me, and to stand perhaps too close for none too long, while I contemplate the next stage of my life.
Depeche Mode performs at Vieilles Charreus Music Festival, July 2018
Depeche Mode performs at Vieilles Charrues Music Festival, July 2018

I’ve said to friends that this will be my last Depeche Mode concert. I wonder at the time of this writing though if that may be because I’ve done so much research on them in the last weeks, and listened to so many interviews, that in a way I can’t quite explain I kind of feel like expecting them to perform any more for me would be taking more than my share of a piece of these human beings. …It’s not the pencil-stache, I swear.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve now seen them five times, and writing for Libro Musica, I’m overwhelmingly aware there are so many other acts out there to give my time and attention (and somebody else’s money). Does that make me a bad fan? Or, not a fan?? Perhaps just not a fanatic. Have no doubt regardless — for their next album, that thing’ll be in my earholes faster than you can say “Just Can’t Get Enough.”

What I’d really love to see is any band emerging now who is inspired by Depeche Mode. If you know of any, do let me know?

Thanks to Vieilles Charrues for welcoming me and putting on such a stellar experience.
#ListenLive and if you can’t #ListenLocal, keep making all efforts to #DiscoverRediscover

Depeche Mode performs at Vieilles Charreus Music Festival, July 2018
Vieilles Charrues Music Festival, July 2018

A Depeche Mode 101 Course For You

Here I’ll share the setlists from the four tours I’ve attended, as a way of highlighting some of the best songs from this band. I challenge you to play every one of these videos I’m including here, to the end, on an above-average sound system, with the volume above your average music level, and not come out the other side a Depeche Mode fan (if you weren’t already).

A great band that doesn’t make your region’s Top 40 requires its passing from person to person. And so, from the bittersweetly romantic ballad “Somebody”, to the exquisite electronica dance anthem “Just Can’t Get Enough”, and all the angst, prowess, and joy in between, I’d be glad to be your person.

2017-2018 Global Spirit Tour | Dallas & Carhaix

This setlist is a composite of the two shows I’ve seen of this tour so the songs aren’t in perfect order — the first at Starplex Pavilion, in Dallas, Texas, U.S.A., and the second at the Vieilles Charrues Music Festival, in Carhaix-Plouguer, Brittany, France.

  • Going Backwards (Spirit, 2017)
  • So Much Love [Dallas only] (Spirit)

  • Barrel of a Gun [Dallas only] (with ‘The Message’ (Grandmaster Flash) snippet) (Ultra, 1997)
  • It’s No Good [Vieilles Charrues only] (Ultra)
  • A Pain That I’m Used To [Jaqcues Lu Cont remix version] (Playing the Angel, 2005)
  • Precious (Playing the Angel)
  • Corrupt [Dallas only] (Sounds of the Universe, 2009)
  • World in My Eyes (Violator, 1990)
  • Cover Me (Spirit)

  • A Question of Lust (Black Celebration, 1986)
  • Somebody (Some Great Reward, 1984)

  • In Your Room (Songs of Faith & Devotion, 1993)
  • Home [Dallas only] (Ultra)
  • Poison Heart [Dallas only] (Spirit)
  • Where’s the Revolution [Dallas only] (Spirit)

  • Wrong [Dallas only] (Sounds of the Universe)
  • Everything Counts (Construction Time Again, 1983)
  • Stripped (Black Celebration)
  • Personal Jesus (Violator, 1990)
  • Never Let Me Down Again (Music For the Masses, 1987)
  • Walking in My Shoes (Songs of Faith & Devotion)

  • “Heroes” [Dallas only; David Bowie cover] (…see at article end…)
  • I Feel You [Dallas only] (Songs of Faith & Devotion)
  • Enjoy the Silence (Violator, 1990)
  • Just Can’t Get Enough (Speak & Spell, 1981)

2009 August | Tour of the Universe | Hollywood, CA

  • In Chains (Sounds of the Universe, 2009)
  • Wrong (Sounds of the Universe)
  • Hole to Feed (Sounds of the Universe)
  • Walking in My Shoes (Songs of Faith & Devotion, 1993)
  • It’s No Good (Ultra, 1997)

  • A Question of Time (Black Celebration, 1986)
  • Precious (Playing the Angel, 2005)
  • Fly on the Windscreen (Black Celebration)
  • Little Soul (Sounds of the Universe)
  • A Question of Lust (Black Celebration)

  • Miles Away/The Truth Is (Sounds of the Universe)
  • Policy of Truth (Violator, 1990)
  • In Your Room (Songs of Faith & Devotion)

  • I Feel You (Songs of Faith & Devotion)
  • Enjoy the Silence (Violator)
  • Never Let Me Down Again (Music For the Masses, 1987)
  • Shake the Disease (The Singles 81→85, 1985)

  • Stripped (Black Celebration)
  • Behind the Wheel (Music For the Masses)
  • Personal Jesus (Violator)
  • Waiting for the Night (Violator)

1993 November | Devotional Tour | Ingelwood, CA

Great Western Forum, Los Angeles

  • Higher Love (Songs of Faith & Devotion, 1993)
  • Policy of Truth (Violator, 1990)
  • World in My Eyes (Violator)

  • Walking in My Shoes (Songs of Faith & Devotion)
  • Behind the Wheel (Music For the Masses, 1987)
  • Halo (Violator)
  • Stripped  (Black Celebration)
  • Condemnation  (Songs of Faith & Devotion)
  • Judas (Songs of Faith & Devotion)

  • Death’s Door (Until the End of the World: Music from the Motion Picture Soundtrack, 1991)
  • Get Right With Me (Songs of Faith & Devotion)
  • I Feel You (Songs of Faith & Devotion)

  • Never Let Me Down Again (Music For the Masses, 1987)
  • Rush (Songs of Faith & Devotion)
  • In Your Room (Songs of Faith & Devotion)
  • Personal Jesus (Violator)

  • Enjoy the Silence (Violator)
  • Fly on the Windscreen (Black Celebration, 1986)
  • Everything Counts (Construction Time Again, 1983)

1988 June | Music For the Masses Tour | Pasadena, CA

  • Pimpf (Music For the Masses, 1987)
  • Behind the Wheel (Music For the Masses)
  • Strangelove (Music For the Masses)

  • Sacred (Music For the Masses)
  • Something to Do (Some Great Reward, 1984)
  • Blasphemous Rumours (Some Great Reward)
  • Stripped (Black Celebration, 1986)

  • Somebody (Some Great Reward)
  • The Things You Said (Music For the Masses)
  • Black Celebration (Black Celebration)
  • Shake the Disease (The Singles 81→85, 1985)
  • Nothing (Music For the Masses)
  • Pleasure, Little Treasure (B-side to “Never Let Me Down Again”)
  • People Are People (Some Great Reward)
  • A Question of Time (Black Celebration)
  • Never Let Me Down Again (Music For the Masses)

  • A Question of Lust (Black Celebration)
  • Master and Servant (Some Great Reward)
  • Just Can’t Get Enough (Speak & Spell, 1981)

  • Everything Counts (Construction Time Again, 1983)

Here to send you off is Depeche Mode’s recent, chill, Elvis-y cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes”, which they’d played live at their Dallas 2017 gig. It happens to also be the song that coming on forty years ago Dave Gahan had sung, attracting to him his future bandmates. Gorgeous. Yes, please.

Kari Leigh London Written by: