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Depeche Mode @ Madison Square Garden, 8.3.09
Of all the bright-eyed groups from the bushy-tailed class of 1982 British New Wavers, few would have picked Depeche Mode as the one still selling out multiple nights at Madison Square Garden 27 years down the road.
They started out as a gaggle of nerds – charming, fashion-forward ones, but nerds, nonetheless – behind banks of synths, spinning out pure pretty pop faster than singer Dave Gahan could finish one of his onstage twirls.
But in the adapt-or-die world of the music industry, Depeche Mode, especially in chief songwriter Martin Gore’s case, found itself uniquely able to adapt, while Gahan, it turns out, is also quite skilled at not dying, despite the odds. Their evolution was proudly on display last night at The Garden, both in songs from the new “Sounds of the Universe” album and in the way they have tweaked their classics to stay contemporary. (They return to The Garden for another show tonight.)
There’s a new edgy guitar break in the slinky “It’s No Good.” There are some Nine Inch Nails-like aggressive synths in “Fly on The Windscreen,” still the best seduction song ever to start with the come-on “Death is everywhere.” And the way the once aloof and brittle “Enjoy the Silence” now extends into a bit of Talking Heads-ish funk, before regaining its icy demeanor, is masterful.
As far as the new songs, they hold their own. For most veteran bands, using three new songs to open their set would be a dicey situation, but Depeche Mode pulls it off. It helps that the bombastic, stomping single “Wrong” and the grinding “Hole to Feed” are built on sturdy melodies similar to ones that have already stood the test of time.
And then there’s Gahan. Though he’s been forced to cancel some shows due to a bout with gastroenteritis and tearing a calf muscle onstage in Spain, he sashayed and posed and spun across the stage without a care in the world. His stage performance has been tweaked, just like Depeche Mode’s music, all for the better.
Instead of picking up the mic stand and whirling like a dervish, Gahan now spins in moderation and he occasionally tangos with the stand or makes broad ballroom moves like he was training for “Dancing With the Stars.” His vocals are different as well, giving a sweeter twist to “Wrong” and a broader snarl to “I Feel You,” which opened as a blues number. He even threw some Michael Jackson-esque “hee-hee hees” into “Strangelove.”
Yes, you read that right. Who knows what Depeche Mode will think of next?
PHOTO: Depeche Mode by Anton Corbijn for Mute Records