Live @ Orlando Arena
By: Eric G.
Besides the multiple near death experiences of it's lead singer Dave Gahan, Depeche Mode suffered a more permanent blow with the departure in 1995 of keyboardist Alan Wilder, who had been in the group for over thirteen years and was the band's most accomplished musician. Since then Depeche Mode has regrouped and revitalized itself, releasing Ultra in 1997- its strongest statement of the decade thus far. The band's latest release is a double disc set comprised of the band's entire singles output from 1986 through 1998 and is an astoundingly strong collection of music for a band as underrated and critically overlooked as Depeche Mode.
The current Singles 86>98 Tour is the first time Dave Gahan has been in any condition to put himself on the road since the band's Devotional tour back in 1993, where he was prey to all the vices and cliches of being a mammoth rock star. The band's staying power is undeniable, packing arena sized gigs all over the world with minimal promotion (when was the last time you saw Depeche Mode on MTV?). The stage set-up is even more simplistic: DM is spelled out in lightbulbs with a three-dimensional screen in between showing video clips and random close-ups and imagery. For a show this size, it is very scaled down, especially when compared to contemporaries like U2, whose stage and light show is a bombastic spectacle unto itself.
What Depeche Mode lacks in contrived spectacle it makes up for in energy and showmanship. Dave Gahan is a natural frontman. His moves onstage contradict the music's overwhelmingly down beat tone, and the crowd goes insane at his slightest gesture. The set was a definite crowd pleaser as every song had been released as a single. Even the newest offering from the band, "Only When I Lose Myself", received an ecstatic response despite the song's low-key feel. The only detraction from the set was the utilization of back-up singers. Depeche Mode's music is extremely insular and personal, and back-up singers seem to break that connection and remind everyone that they are at a concert.
Martin Gore played guitar most of the show instead of being locked behind his keyboard, and live drums gave the sound a fuller and more dramatic tension, which was, perhaps, absent on previous tours because of the band's reliance on drum machines. "Never Let Me Down Again" from Music For The Masses had the greatest impact on the crowd with its chant along vocal melody and booming piano line. Other standouts included a rocking version of "In Your Room", Gore's twisted "Somebody" and, surprisingly, for the final encore, "Just Can't Get Enough." With its newfound energy and focus, a future for Depeche Mode is certain.