August 18, 2009 / 12:29 AM / 10 years ago

Depeche Mode in top form for memorable "Night"

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Depeche Mode transforms solace and introspection into a communal concert experience with their very devoted and now cross-generational fans. That’s the veteran British band’s greatest gift, and Sunday’s first of two sold-out historic Hollywood Bowl performances lived up to their legendary status.

Depeche Mode lead singer David Gahan performs at the Molson Amphitheatre to kick-off their North American tour in Toronto, July 24, 2009. REUTERS/ Mike Cassese

Detractors over the years have dismissed the group as just a synth band or some sort of goth outfit with a large cult (wrong on both accounts). They fail to notice the use of textured guitars and quite live drums as well as biblical and philosophical language in lyrics that every one of the faithful flock can quote.

Despite being forced to cancel Bay Area and San Diego dates under doctor’s orders to rest his throat, singer Dave Gahan showed no signs of fatigue. Earlier this year, the frontman underwent surgery for a malignant tumor and reportedly is battling bladder cancer. The nature of his treatments is unknown. His jacket came off early on to reveal a sleeveless vest, though he did wrap his neck with a scarf midway through the show.

Gahan’s baritone rang solid as he spun with a mike stand and egged on the crowd to clap and sing along to song after song — which of course, they did. Singer-guitarist Martin Gore, the main musical architect, wore an Elvis-like flashy silver suit, ready early for the band’s upcoming gig Saturday in Las Vegas.

The set list drew from more than 25 years of material but was far from any ‘80s/‘90s flashback oldies show. In fact, the first three numbers were all from the band’s latest album, its Capitol/Mute debut, “Sounds of the Universe.” All were well received, too, especially the recent single “Wrong.”

Some of the most affecting numbers included the challenge of “Walking in My Shoes” and the slow-burn treatment of “Precious,” a song born out of separation and divorce that’s become much more than that with its refrain of “things get damaged, things get broken.” In one of his several lead vocal spotlights, Gore offered a longing-filled, scaled-down version of “Home,” centered on his aching voice and accompanying delicate piano.

The band’s long-standing visual elements included a video globe that displayed mysterious symbols and transformed into an old-fashioned typewriter ball as well as curious, provocative and sometimes purposefully non-sequitur images on screens, though it was the color and especially starker black-and-white live shots of the band that truly had the most impact.

The momentum toward the main set’s climax seemed a bit stilted, though there certainly were vivid counterpoints, including the pulsating “Policy of Truth” and the dramatic retreat of “In Your Room” with almost Pink Floyd-like soloing from Gore. But once the group reached the bursting-thump fan delight of “Enjoy the Silence” and the hand-waving “Never Let Me Down Again,” triumph was in the cool night air.

The first round of encores included Gore — and much of the crowd — singing the plaintive “Somebody,” the oozing demand of “Stripped” and the synth-swathed “Strangelove.”

The band came back again with the riff-and-stomp of the wry “Personal Jesus,” most hands up to “reach out and touch faith,” then a soothing low-key closer in “Waiting for the Night,” a Depeche Mode lullaby in which, once again, melancholy was turned into hope and a genuine affirmation of life.

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