It was a very different world than today when Depeche Mode first formed and traded in the traditional guitars for synthesizers. The 80’s were all about excess. as Gordon Gekko proclaimed, “greed was good” and pop music ruled the airwaves in all of its expendable consumption. Depeche Mode got the kids up and dancing to their seductive beats, all the while asking the big questions that were largely being ignored in the superficial race for more. There is pain underneath this pleasure. We feel doubts and we feel regrets. In this way, Depeche Mode kept the truth in check to what was going on in the larger world around them. In September 2017, on a balmy late summer evening at the Austin 360 Amphitheater, Depeche Mode would provoke more truths for the modern times. Revolution was in the air.
This evening, the revolution started before Depeche Mode came on stage to the Beatles 1968 hit “Revolution.” It started with an all-female opening band from Los Angeles called Warpaint. Warpaint is not an 80’s girl pop bubblegum band with big hair and flashy clothing begging for your approval and attention. Yes, some classify them as dreampop, but this is a serious rock band. Warpaint keeps the beat behind a fierce and mesmerizing drummer who, with every hit of her drum, reminds you that this isn’t your normal dreampop collaboration. As children in the 80’s, it is highly conceivable that these ladies came across Depeche Mode on MTV and heard the other message the band was sending amidst the good times of peace and prosperity. Warpaint is a band that starts slow and continues to burn and build until they get your full attention, so that when Depeche Mode followed shortly thereafter you were ready to hear what was coming next.
Depeche Mode chose to open their show with the alarmist “Going Backwards”, a single off their new record that doesn’t sugarcoat. It exclaims, with all of DM’s truth-telling sensibilities, that we are not currently moving forward – we are heading backwards. As the audience pulled out their Androids and iPhones to capture the colorful kaleidoscope of paint splatter imagery projected onto the big screen behind the band, Depeche Mode sang of how we as a society are armed with all the latest technology, yet we are heading back towards caveman times.
The synergy on stage of Depeche Mode is a contribution of everyone in the band, but especially the vocals of Dave Gahan and Martin Gore. For the remainder of their over two-hour performance the men would swap singing songs. Gahan remained the front man for the majority of vocals and stage theatrics, while Gore would come in on occasion and stand as still as a statue, somberly belting out powerful classics like “A Question Of Lust” and “Somebody.”
Gore’s sober check-in’s were a reprieve from keeping track of Gahan, who was strutting, flailing, dancing, and thrusting all over the stage, holding his mic stand high into the air. He gave it so much face time that it would only be fair to allow the mic stand an official position as a 6th member of the band. This is how Depeche Mode kept the audience engaged with their message of revolution and change. Not with any sort of verbal rants – as this show had no speeches – but through movement of body and sound. They would sometimes get the audience directly involved, like with the new song “Cover Me,” where the audience was all too happy to oblige in clapping along. There were times where the cameras would pan out to the audience and project the crowd onto the screens, so that everyone felt as though they were part of the experience.
The closing song wasn’t a call-to-action send off, but arguably their biggest hit, “Personal Jesus.” This single was released in the final few months of the gluttonous 1980’s, yet, as a closing song, still carries a message of seeking that the world of 2017 responds to. And the Austin360 Amphitheater audience did just that. After a night filled with new DM songs about change and revolution, the audience was left in the end with a song that has no answers, just hope. Some of the crowd rushed up to the stage after the band took their bows and, while the rest of the band left the stage, Dave Gahan lingered and shook hands. He continued grasping as many of the outreached fingers as he could before slipping into the darkness of stageside, leaving the remaining extended hands still searching and abiding in hope for something more.