One of my best friends in high school used to say she preferred the music of “post modern” (as the genre was dubbed at the time) groups like Depeche Mode because their sound was timeless, vs. the era’s disposable top 40 radio tracks, which were destined to sound dated in just a few years.
And she was right, kind of: A Depeche Mode concert manages to straddle that line between digging deep into its four-decade catalog and not feeling like a legacy act. That was mostly on display Tuesday night at the Kia Forum, where Depeche Mode played the third date of its brand new “Momento Mori” tour. (They’ll be back at the Forum in December for two more shows.)
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Depeche Mode is now a duo — Dave Gahan and Martin Gore — following the death last year of Andrew Fletcher, the longtime member who suffered an aortic dissection in May. Despite the death-filled imagery of “Momento Mori,” the band’s 15th studio album, and the band’s often melancholy songwriting (that same friend also used to call the band “Depressed Mode”), there’s still a bit of a celebratory mood to a Depeche Mode concert these days.
First off, given the band’s tumultuous past, it’s some great reward that Depeche Mode is still here at all. But what’s more, not only does the group have some new music to support, but they even have a bit of a new hit: “Ghosts Again,” their most-played original in several years.
For Depeche Mode, taking the stage in Los Angeles is like the returning team playing to the home crowd. This is where some of the band’s biggest memories have been made (most good, perhaps some not so much). The famed “101” concert at the Rose Bowl in 1988, which sparked a concert film and album. It’s hard to forget the 1990 Depeche Mode riot outside Wherehouse Music on La Cienega, when thousands of fans tried to get inside a KROQ event. And as recently as 2017, Depeche Mode became the first band to perform for four consecutive nights at the Hollywood Bowl.
As they’ve done so far on this new tour, Depeche Mode played five songs from “Momento Mori,” but focused most of their set on more familiar tunes. The required tracks are all there — “Everything Counts,” “Enjoy the Silence,” “Personal Jesus,” “Just Can’t Get Enough” — along with a few deeper cuts.
Despite coming out 42 years ago, “Just Can’t Get Enough” seems to have a new spring in its step, and brings down the house late in the set. On this tour, Depeche Mode has been mixing things up and playing “Everything Counts” early in the set (the crowd pleasing hit, which also became a live staple thanks to its prominence in “101,” normally ends the entire concert or at least shuts things down before the encore) along with ASL visuals emphasizing how those grabbing hands grab what they can. “Walking in My Shoes” got a funky bit of a remix, and “Enjoy the Silence,” which remains Depeche Mode’s biggest hit, received the extended jam it deserved this time. On the flip side, the “Zephyr mix” of “In Your Room” still doesn’t provide the striking chords that the album version has in past tours.
Gahan can’t quite hit all of the notes on 2005’s “Precious” or 1997’s “Sister of Night,” which makes those two song selections interesting ones for this tour. But later, on an acoustic version of 1993’s “Condemnation,” a song that had been played only a handful of times — with Gore singing — since 2001, Gahan took on lead vocals on the song for the first time in 22 years… and nailed it. (In the liner notes to Depeche Mode’s reissue of 1993’s “Songs of Faith and Devotion,” music producer and Mute Records founder Daniel Miller wrote that he thought that the original “Condemnation” was one of Gahan’s best vocals ever.)
Men of few words, Gahan and Gore mostly let the music do the talking, saying very little during the 2-hour show. (Gahan seemed a bit perturbed that the audience — again, this was the L.A. home turf — wasn’t as vocal or interactive as he would have liked.) As a twosome, there seems to be a new dose of camaraderie between Gahan and Gore on stage, even as Gahan does his best rock star struts across the stage and Gore hops from instrument to instrument.
Gahan and Gore paid tribute to Fletcher during what the performance of what the late musician had once called his favorite Depeche Mode track, “World in My Eyes” (from “Violator”). As Gahan and Gore looked on and pointed at the digital screens, an image of a young Fletcher changed over time, adding his signature glasses. “Our friend, Mr. Andrew Fletcher,” Gahan said at the end of the song.
Fletcher’s death once again conjured questions about the future of Depeche Mode — especially now that the surviving members are now both over 60. But on stage, there’s no signs of slowing down. Gahan, in particular, continues to do his best Mick Jagger, striking poses on the Forum stage and holding the microphone stand over his head like a prize fighter. It’s like Gahan completes a yoga session after every song — and he’s not afraid to show off those poses.
Hopefully all that activity is keeping Gahan and Gore healthy, while the success of “Ghosts Again” and sold-out nature of this “Momento Mori” keeps them inspired. When you’re timeless like them, there’s no reason for it to end.
Here’s the set list for Depeche Mode’s March 28, 2023 show at the Kia Forum in Inglewood, Calif.:
Intro: “Speak to Me” (Outro)
“My Cosmos Is Mine”
“Walking in My Shoes”
“It’s No Good”
“Sister of Night”
“In Your Room” (Zephyr Mix)
“Speak to Me”
“A Question of Lust”
“Soul With Me” (Acoustic)
“I Feel You”
“A Pain That I’m Used To” (Jacques Lu Cont’s Remix)
“World in My Eyes”
“John the Revelator”
“Enjoy the Silence”
“Just Can’t Get Enough”
“Never Let Me Down Again”
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