The bigger question is where have you been?
Synth-pop masters Depeche Mode returned to Portland for the first time in 17 years on Monday playing to a packed Moda Center as part of their worldwide Global Spirit Tour supporting their 14th studio album Spirit released in March.
The 22-song, two hour-plus set brought a welcome exercise in efficiency as band founders David Gahan, Martin Gore and Andrew Fletcher along with two touring musicians wasted little time, did not keep the audience waiting and powered through some old songs, rarities and a solid selection off the latest album.
Indeed, it was a spirited evening featuring an exceptional sound that showcased Gahan’s stellar vocals and the band’s penchant towards songs of faith and devotion – a record title no less the band tapped into three times along with cuts from nine other albums including five from Spirit.
Depeche Mode did not rely on a heavy catalogue of singles, a setlist of its own that could stretch two hours. Instead, the first half primarily highlighted songs off Spirit and a number of deep album cuts before a more energetic second half opened the floor to a handful of radio hits and allowed the 40-somethings making up much of the crowd to relive their high school years.
Depeche Mode started the evening with “Going Backwards” the opening track off Spirit a politically charged album the band wrote using last year’s Brexit elections and America’s presidential campaign as inspiration. No political posturing here though as the Brits played music and let the cards fall where they may. In fact, except for an occasional “thank you” a “Hello Portland” and Gahan asking the delighted crowd “Where have you been?” prior to the start of “Never Let Me Down Again,” which closed-out the primary set, Depeche Mode stuck strictly to script giving their music to the masses.
The band moved forward with another new song “So Much Love” and kept up with picks highlighting the second half of their career now approaching 40 years with “Barrel of a Gun” off 1997’s Ultra, a rocking “A Pain That I’m Used To” the opener to 2005’s Playing The Angel, the B side “Corrupt” from 2009’s Sounds Of The Universe and finally “In Your Room” the first of three off Songs Of Faith And Devotion now almost 25 years old. If you were looking for radio staples it didn’t arrive until the seventh song of the evening as “World in My Eyes” opened the door for their 1990 smash Violator.
Credit to the band by bringing to the fore a number of underappreciated or simply forgotten songs in “Stripped,” “Wrong” and, off Spirit, the space-themed “Cover Me” which not so coincidentally was just pushed as the latest single from the new album. Additionally, the string of slower fare highlighting the first hour that might prove harder to digest while listening off the live stage moved along surprisingly well, surpassed the album versions and hardly felt cumbersome. However, just as is felt time to pick up the pace, they did with the first single and final offering from Spirit as they put the new album to bed for the night with “Where’s the Revolution?” Two songs later it was a whole different feel as much of those sitting stood for “Everything Counts” the oldest selection of the night off 1983’s Construction Time Again. And no, Gore did not break out a shawm, clever uses of the synthesizes for those parts.
Depeche Mode never deviated from the classic feel of their songs but managed to incorporate some excellent mixes and extended jams into a keyboard heavy “Enjoy the Silence,” a guitar timbre blended nicely into the fantastic “Never Let Me Down” and a totally different feel to a grunged-up “I Feel You.” Gore, who takes lead on guitar and helps out on synthesizers often, also took vocal duties on stripped down versions, featuring just Gore and keyboardist Peter Gordeno on piano, of “A Question of Lust,” “Home” and “Somebody” which opened the encore.
Depeche Mode clearly opened the door for synth-heavy and keyboard-centric music as they helped catapult the 1980s new wave movement. However, it’s Gahan’s vocals that separate them from everyone else today and yesterday. Regardless it’s not a stretch to instead describe Depeche Mode as vocal-centric. Gahan’s baronial sound comes across like no other and he was on point sounding like a master-taped version of himself. When he steps aside for Gore’s turn at the mic it’s actually a weird transition. Gore brings his own classy style but offers such a different tone and texture it takes some time to realize – oh he can sing. And sings quite well.
They closed the show with a five-song encore including a well-rehearsed insouciant version of David Bowie’s “Heroes” before ending the evening with rousing editions of “I Feel You” and one of their biggest hits “Personal Jesus.”
It would be remiss to not acknowledge longtime percussionist Christian Eigner who brought rocking hard beats without swallowing Gahan’s vocals or distorting the band’s signature sound all the while tearing into his drum kit like a crazed drummer.
A most enjoyable show from beginning to end.
Depeche Mode Global Spirit Tour Portland Setlist
1. Going Backwards
2. So Much Love
3. Barrel of a Gun
4. A Pain That I’m Used To
6. In Your Room
7. World In My Eyes
8. Cover Me
9. A Question of Lust
11. Poison Heart
12. Where’s The Revolution
14. Everything Counts
16. Enjoy The Silence
17. Never Let Me Down Again
19. Walking In My Shows
21. I Feel You
22. Personal Jesus