Evening Standard 'Hot Tickets' 12th-18th October 2001
LIVE REVIEWSStill Gahan Strong
Waldbuhne, Berlin - September 5-6, 2001
"In this anniversary year, the class of '81 have mostly taken comfort in tradition. But while U2 and New Order fall back on guitars and greatest hits, the other graduates of that 50 million-plus sales, post punk super league are still pushing forward, still selling out arenas in minutes, and still underrated in their homeland. Too old for Radio 1, too weird for Radio 2, Depeche Mode remain the biggest cult band in Britain.
But does that make them any good? Try asking the 20,000 Germanic street screechers who throng this former Hitler Youth amphitheatre on the first of two sell out Berlin dates. The atmosphere is beyond hysterical long before the band arrive for a two hour marathon.
It's heavy on the new 'Exciter' album, with virtually no '80s Mode and barely half a dozen singles - but still everybody screams every word. In this age of bewildering consumer choice, Depeche have cracked pop's holy grail, band loyalty.
For most of the '90s, the Mode were divided by drugs, egos and internal friction. On their 1998 tour they seemed fragile, depleted, uneven. This time they rock like a Panzer division. Right from the glam stomp of "Dead Of Night", Dave Gahan is on killer form - a slicked back, duck-walking, cool suited rock'n'roller, shagging his mic stand and high kicking the night air. Meanwhile Martin Gore, rock's campest heterosexual, wearing the single wing and snow white bondage trousers of a fallen angel, joins Dave in frequent bouts of back to back arse dancing.
With just the slightest mid set lull, the pacing is near perfect, Depeche can still pound out thunderdome metal bashers like "I Feel You" and "Personal Jesus", or Wagnerian disco behemoths like 'Enjoy The Silence'. But a newly crafted subtlety and Gahan's enriched voice also allow room for twinklers like "When The Body Speaks" and "Freelove".
Whatever their internal tensions, the Mode seem at their most coherent and in sync for a decade. They've finessed the gulf between Gahan's comical rock star histrionics and the other two's more restrained Euro cool detachment into some kind of revved-up, sky punching, dynamic whole.
Crashing from anthemic peak to anthemic peak, Depeche Mode are a national institution with an international cult following. In an era of lacklustre megashows and bad superstars, respect is due."
New Musical Express, 22nd September, 2001
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The Long And Winding Mode
Bercy, Paris - October 9-10, 2001
After 20 years of drink, drugs and breakdowns, the Essex band's only essential album is the singles collection - but on stage they're transformed.
"Their latest album was four years in the making, so there is nothing particularly depeche about them anymore, but the Mode remain seriously fashionable. Less so in Britain, perhaps, where their audience is generally as old as the band, but if you go to see them in France, Germany, Italy or the States, you are in for a big surprise.
First, the people in the audience are young. Second, they adore the band. And they are right to do so. For, despite starting out as one of those fey boy synth pop acts accused of conspiring to destroy musicianship back in the early Eighties, Depeche Mode have slowly grown into one of the best live rock acts on the planet.
They begin by playing the worst song of their entire career – "The Dead of Night", a sort of return homage to Marilyn Manson, who is a big fan of theirs – and, at one point, perform five ballads in a row. Yet they are swept towards the triumphant encore by 20,000 screaming, dancing Parisians. The truly impressive thing about the fans is that they sing along not only to the old hits ("Enjoy The Silence", "Personal Jesus") but to the new tracks. And considering that the band’s latest album, Exciter, really ought to have been called Dishwater – as that’s how dull it is – this shows more than a little dedication.
It is certainly hard to imagine any of their contemporaries getting this kind of treatment. I have seen the Human League, Duran Duran and Culture Club live in the past couple of years, and in each case what they were peddling was essentially nostalgia. Any new songs were greeted with groans and a mass exodus to refill plastic glasses and relieve bladders. Even U2 get heckled if they fail to play "Pride" or "Where The Streets Have No Name". Depeche Mode, by contrast, completely ignore their first four albums (a shame, as they contain some wonderful songs) and intersperse the new material with obscure album tracks like "It Doesn’t Matter Two" and "Halo".
It helps that Dave Gahan and Martin Gore look so good together. Both are skinny and muscular and wear their hair slicked back. Gore, the introverted songwriter, is dressed all in white, with a feather boa like a camp angel. Gahan, the exhibitionist singer, is all in black, an amiable demon, though it doesn’t take him long to lose his shirt. The third member, synth boffin Andrew Fletcher, looks like their financial adviser, or possibly their dad.
There is something intriguing about the relationship between Gore and Gahan, who met as schoolboys in Basildon and have been through fame, drugs, nervous breakdowns and spiritual awakenings together, yet oddly seem to have almost nothing in common. In the sense that Gore writes sensitive, tortured lyrics that Gahan then belts out while prancing maniacally around the stage and yelling "Yeah!", they are reminiscent of Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey. The difference is that you can imagine Gore and Gahan waking up in the same bed (though you may not want to).
What distinguishes the show, apart from the quality of the songs and sound, is the energy that flows from the stage. This is not simply a question of physical fitness – Gahan, in fact, has a little paunch peeping over his belt, which presumably explains why he spends so much time with his hands thrust into the air – but of artistic intensity. Most bands, when they reach the 20-year stage, tend to relax a bit. They do a 15-minute acoustic session, sitting on stools, the singer wanders off for a shower while the hired musicians play solo spots; often, when you reach the first encore, you can see the guitarist’s eyes drift off to the golf course where he would rather be. But Depeche Mode play music as though this really is the acme of their lives.
It is certainly the acme of their careers. Though everyone should own a copy of their singles collections, not one Mode song sounds as good on CD as it does when played live. In this sense they are probably unique. And it’s not that the recorded versions are bad, either, just that, listening to "It’s No Good" or "Walking In My Shoes" or "Never Let Me Down Again", you hear a texture to the rhythms that is flattened out by the recording process: the layers of squelching, churning, hammering, melodic synth riffs gain a new clarity and depth. Sonically, they are up there with modern club heroes such as the Chemical Brothers and Orbital.
Visually, too, the concert is perfectly constructed. Anton Corbijn’s set design starts off starkly minimalist – just a few leaning rectangles made from striplights and spotlights – but it changes and grows, subtly, as the show progresses. Towards the end there are some smart videos: "In Your Room" is backed up by a goldfish swimming in sky-blue water; on the first crash of beats, a shark enters the water too. You spend the whole song waiting for it to eat the fish.
The only fault is the diminished quality of Martin Gore’s new songs, which are meant, I suppose, to be stripped down and delicate. The results, on "When The Body Speaks" and "Breathe", are insipid. "Dream On" is better, its spooky two-part vocal here turned into a mass chant, while even the risible new single "Freelove" becomes a singalong. If Gore can refind his muse, and Gahan stay off the smack, Depeche could still be in mode when they reach their thirtieth anniversary."
The Observer, 21st October, 2001
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Wembley Arena, London - October 17, 2001
Exciter Tour - European leg
Supported by Fad Gadget
"God, I've been all over Europe and I haven't seen such a dead audience. You've got bodies... fucking use them!" said Fad Gadget. Consolidating his return to the live arena in the biggest way possible (from the modest Elektrofest in April to supporting Depeche Mode on their European tour just a few months later), Frank Tovey's legendary alter ego is facing a typical London audience. There was no Lady Shave tonight, but Ricky's Hand was as subversive as ever, with the dangerous drill making a welcome appearance. Coitus Interruptus was a great 'dance' version that did get the crowd moving, and Collapsing New People was another fine entry.
Running, leaping, jumping and diving. The fact that this was a 20,000 capacity arena didn't stop Fad stage diving into the audience. It was clear that, despite his protestations, most of the audience did appreciate him and if the people around me were anything to go by then there were clearly a lot of fans too as they were singing along and cheering on their favourite tracks. Gadget walked off after some Fat Boy Slim "Superstar DJ" and Baha Men "Who let the dogs out?" improv thrown in for good measure. Not sure if it was just an ironic statement of sorts or if it was a critique of the audience who didn't go wild en masse for Mr Gadget. He shouldn't concern himself. DM fans are notoriously fickle and intolerant when it comes to support bands. He could have fared a lot worse and if he really wasn't appreciated then he would have known it. Electribe 101 were left in no doubt at the same venue during an earlier DM tour, when they were unceremoniously canned off the stage. These days they don't allow drinks to be taken into the standing area. Hmm, I wonder why?
As for Depeche Mode, having concentrated on relatively small bands over the last few years, the last time I was at a venue the size of Wembley Arena was during the last DM tour. I'm not a fan of big venue gigs in general - largely because they usually lack atmosphere and often reek of corporate sponsorship. To my surprise and delight, neither applied tonight. DM were not only on form, they were better than their 'Singles' tour in 1998. Gone was the angst and tears on stage when David Gahan was singing the emotionally charged songs. In place of this distressing tone was one of pure fun. Gahan's movements on stage have been well chronicled, but I'd never seen him move quite like he did tonight. He and Martin Gore pogoing past each other would have been naff if it wasn't so uncontrollably genuine. Yet, never was this joyous atmosphere at the expense of the songs.
Gahan is still a bit too lazy on the vocal front for my tastes, i.e. getting the audience to 'join in' on a classic chorus or two is tolerable if not something I ever 'enjoy', but Gahan goes overboard and the lack of band driven vocals on Enjoy the Silence was a disappointment. The Dead of Night - my least favourite track from their latest album Exciter is easily the least convincing track. It's obviously deliberate kitsch delivery doesn't turn it into the lighthearted piece I'm sure the band intended and, to be frank, I was glad that it was well out of the way. Freelove on the other hand, also from Exciter, recalls the classic Music for the Masses era and adds another strong anthem to their live repertoire. Choice singles and album cuts dominated the remainder. With the likes of Personal Jesus, Black Celebration, In Your Room and Never Let Me Down Again peppering the set, the shortcomings of the often too slight new material were thrown into relief. However, even I have to admit that Dream On, what I considered to be one of the Mode's weakest single releases ever, worked remarkably well live. I'm convinced that is at least partially due to it being a real 'grower' of a track; something Depeche Mode do so well you'd think that the Government would use their songs to insert subliminal messages that gradually wear you down after repeated exposure.
Gahan was already down to his bare chest by the fourth track, sweat making his body glisten just like a movie rock star. But the gesturing and posturing of the previous two tours was toned down, in that this time Gahan was 'dealing' with the situation a whole lot better. I quickly found myself being won over. Highly skeptical of the live potential of the new material, I didn't expect the Exciter tour to rock my socks, but it almost whipped them out from under me. This was really down to the honesty of those on stage. They were having such a good time that it was impossible not to get carried along by it all. Martin Gore gave Gahan a chance to rest back stage when he sung When the Body Speaks, Home and a brilliiant and rare rendition of It Doesn't Matter Too. Gore's voice as moving as ever - the more harmonious counterpart to Gahan's powerful lead voice and sometimes guttural crooning. Strolling around the stage with his guitars has given Gore the chance to shine as a performer. Long gone is the reluctant nervousness that used to trouble him. Now, it is he that stands high at the back of the stage, guitar slung low around his body, both arms raised in a victory 'V' - saluting the rock gods above.
Poor old Andy Fletcher, meanwhile, is left with far too little to do. Everyone has readily acknowledged that his strengths in the band lay in the business side of things and, during the band's most troubled periods, in keeping the whole enterprise together. He's never been known for his keyboard skills but the lack of parts for him to play is getting a bit out of hand. It wouldn't matter so much if he were a natural mover. His often awkward hand clapping, waving and pointing is a forgivable, even endearing character trait; but the shadow boxing, disco moves and exagerated 'dancing' was pure pantomime. On several ocassions I wondered if Mute was secretly filming an Andy Fletcher workout video without telling anyone. Ensuring their live sound remains largely live were an additional synth player - taking over the parts of the sadly departed Alan Wilder - and a very convincing drummer.
Although their golden years are apparently well behind them now, the Mode, despite what certain BBC radio stations would have you believe, remain relevent, even important. The newer material is fine, just not terrific. Provided they can turn in albums as good as Exciter every few years and continue to deliver live performances like tonight, then they need not concern themselves with the likes of Radio 1. As Dave Gahan so eloquently put it at one point: "Fuck Radio 1".
Exactly, let's get on with some rockin'.
DSO, 17th October, 2001
Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.
Read the NME Wembley review here
Depeche Mode Delivers an Innovative Masterwork
Long before pundits coined the phrases "synth-pop" and "electronica," Depeche Mode passionately embraced digital technology and leapt headlong into the musical future.
Now, 20 years after their historic emergence, the techno-pop pioneers have delivered yet another masterwork. Released in March 2001, Exciter powerfully reaffirms Depeche Mode's status as musical innovators. Foregoing the frenzied rhythms of modern electronica, the British trio has opted for an insinuating blend of shadowy melody, murmuring percussion and pyschosexual lyricism. With its perceptive insights into the thorny complexities of romance, Exciter marks a compelling new chapter for founding members David Gahan (vocals), Martin Gore (keyboards, guitar), and Andrew Fletcher (keyboards).
To date, a long list of publications, including Rolling Stone, New York Daily News, Los Angeles Times, Billboard and US Weekly, have weighed-in with ecstatic reviews. USA Today described Exciter as "the earthiest and most futuristic song cycle the group has released yet, folding acoustic and electronic orchestration into gorgeous sonic landscapes." The U.K. publication Mojo called the disc "innovative, enigmatic and passionate...pop perfection," while L.A. Weekly put the album into historic perspective. To wit: "Exciter is the sound of a band at the height of its powers. Depeche Mode may have become an institution, complete with tribute albums and imitators, but they deserve respect for what they're doing, not for what they did first."
Exciter is the superbly crafted recording fans have come to expect from the band that helped make electronic music palatable for the masses. Hailing from the British town of Basildon, Depeche Mode surfaced in 1980 with a synth-saturated sound quite unlike the guitar-intensive recordings of the time. But following the release of their groundbreaking 1981 debut album Speak & Spell, founding member Vince Clarke departed to form Yaz and Erasure. Without missing a beat, keyboardist Martin Gore stepped to the fore and assumed the songwriting helm.
Subsequent Depeche Mode recordings like A Broken Frame, Some Great Reward, Black Celebration, Music for the Masses and Violator were erotic dissertations on love, sexual politics and spirituality. By the late '80s, the unassuming band that challenged the guitar-rock heirarchy was producing hit singles, including "Behind the Wheel," "Enjoy the Silence," "Policy of Truth," "Personal Jesus" and "I Feel You."
But while songs like "Behind the Wheel," "Strangelove" and "Master and Servant" explored the dark psychology of romance, Depeche Mode has never stooped to cynicism. "Blasphemous Rumours," "Personal Jesus" and "Higher Love" find Gore struggling to reconcile spirit and flesh. As Depeche Mode's new album suggests, Gore and his confederates have finally discovered the perfect musical balance.
By Bruce Britt
BMI, Aug 27 2001
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Depeche Mode win inaugural
Q Innovation Award
Basildon electro-pop pioneers are heading home with the Q Innovation Awards this afternoon. "Thanks very much," said Dave Gahan. "It's not what we expected, but then we never expected to be still standing after 20 years. But we're proud of it." This is a new award, which recognises creativity, invention and courage in the face of adversity. The Q team declared that Depeche Mode are true mavericks that have left an indelible mark on music, changing our perceptions forever, having kicked off their career at the dawn of the 80s and established themselves as one of the world's most popular bands.
Taken from the Q Awards website
21st October, 2002
Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.
FREELOVE - released November 5, 2001
No reviews currently available
by Gal Detourn
DJ, 1st-14th December, 2001
They've been a synth-pop hit machine, and dark, drug-addled, industrial-tinged overlords. Now, twenty-one years after their inception, Depeche Mode have been chilling, and even shaking some booty.
Depeche Mode are unlikely survivors from an era when electronic music exploded into the pop era. Although their moniker means 'fast fashion', these Basildon ex-pats have a two-decade history in which they have sold over 50 million albums. Their latest - 'Exciter' - released earlier this year, has been number one in five countries, number two in another five, number three in four, as well as number 8 in America and number 9 in the UK. Despite this, with the occasional exception of singer Dave Gahan, they can walk down the street without stopping traffic.
Today's current crop of club kids will recognise their name, but not much more. The most they're likely to know about these eighties survivors is that they shook their booty to the Mode's recent Ibiza summer anthem 'I Feel Loved', in which the groove-laden, understated textures of the original were given a dark tribal-house makeover by Danny Tenaglia.
So where did it all start? Vince Clark (now Erasure), Andrew Fletcher and Martin Gore initially formed Composition of Sound. In 1980 they roped in David Gahan, rechristened themselves Depeche Mode and were soon invading the charts with insanely catchy synth-pop ditties. After their successful 'Speak and Spell' album, Clarke left to form Yazoo with Alison Moyet. Technology dude Alan Wilder stepped into the fray and 1982's 'A Broken Frame' followed. From this point onwards they steadily developed a darker, serious tone, producing tracks about psychosexual chicanery - 'Master and Servant' - and egalitarian desires ('People are People'). A string of hit albums and singles followed - including 'Personal Jesus' in 1989 - and the once fresh-faced cutesy Essex boys transformed themselves into a moody, earnest, alternative stadium outfit - the nearest thing to an electronic U2, perhaps. They even sported all-black fetish inspired outfits. Hmm.
However, after consolidating their gains things swiftly went pear-shaped in true Spinal Tap overload stylee. Their 1993 Devotional tour has been described as one of the most debauched ever. Fletcher had a nervous breakdown, Gore suffered stress-induced seizures and Gahan became a heroin addict. Two years later Wilder quit and Gahan attempted suicide. A year on he suffered a near fatal overdose.
"You lose your mind completely and then you lose your soul," he observed about this period. Yep, the poor lad had descended into rock god self-parody and had not only got himself a nasty habit, but a set of tattoos to match. But it wasn't the end.
After a four-year absence the boys returned as a trio in 1997 with the album 'Ultra'. But it wasn't a reinvention. "Because of problems in the band during the last two studio albums," Andy Fletcher admitted earlier this year, "the creativity was cut off to a certain extent. Now relations between us are better than they have been for a long time and that has carried over to the next album ('Exciter'). There is a real feeling of the group working and enjoying each other's company. When you hear the new songs, I think they come across as sounding quite fresh."
Arguably, the latest album 'Exciter' is a reinvention. It led Gahan to state: "Now I'm feeling like I'm firing on all cylinders." It was a sentiment echoed by Fletcher: "When you hear the new songs, I think they come across as sounding quite fresh."
'Exciter' is hardly genius, but it does show a relaxed, maturer, more fluid side to the band. It might be restrained and airbrushed in places, but its glitchy undercurrents, subtle bluesy guitars and gliding synths, as well as the motoring slice of dancefloor hypnotism that is 'I Feel Loved', are definite departures. The fact that Mark Bell was recruited to produce it, purely on the basis of his work with Bjork, was an indication of Depeche Mode's appetite for 'new life'. Gahan put it like this: "Mark is very musical, and extremely intuitive about working with vocals and what can be done with them. He encouraged me to push further."
"With Bjork, Mark used her voice almost as an instrument," Andy Fletcher added. "He works very hard and just seems to have a sense of what is right, both musically and vocally. He's been very important to the making of this record." "He would never do anything that is cliched," Martin Gore agreed, "which I think is great. He thinks so differently."
Gore himself - Mr Songwriter - tries to visit underground vinyl emporiums when he can, and often parts with huge wads over the internet (so to speak) in his insatiable quest for new choons. "I love the underground", he told an American hack, "because it has a real alternative feel to it".
And this explains a lot about how he came to write a track that was to become one of this year's Ibiza smashes. Danny Tenaglia's 'Labour of Love' mix was a painstakingly-worked prog anthem which introduced Depeche Mode to fresher, younger ears. The Tenaglia effort was one of a slurry of dance reworkings of singles lifted from 'Exciter'. Kid 606, Console, Deep Dish, Josh Wink, DJ Muggs, Betrand Burgalat, Dave Clarke, Octagon Man, Flood, Schlammpeitziger and Thomas Brinkmann all got their paws on Depeche tracks, twisting them into new styles and shapes.
The remix frenzy and Ibiza success will no doubt encourage those who wax lyrical about the influence of Depeche Mode upon dance music, although they never quite pinpoint what that influence is. In truth, the modern dance and electronica landscapes have probably been shaped as much by disco, the gay scene, technology developments, Latin, dub, rap, space jazz, Kraftwerk, electro, the Roland 303, industrial, Ecstasy, Brian Eno, and the electronic avant-garde. However, synth pop acts like Depeche Mode, the Human League and Gary Numan established a musical persona for themselves based around synth textures and electric beats alone, and maybe, just maybe, that made dance and electronica's move into the mainstream that tiny bit easier. Who knows?
Ironically though, although Depeche Mode may have appealed to the youthful explorations of DJs and musicians that went on to explore more funky electronic paths, the boys themselves have always been a million miles from Ibiza's fluffy bra brigade. Until now. They may traditionally be white-boy, geeky stadium fodder that's way too dark and angular to get down to, but 2001 saw a whole new booty conscious side to their character. Depeche are now down with dance.
In January the clean-living (relatively speaking) revitalised Mode continue their rehabilitation when they release a fourth single from 'Exciter' - 'Goodnight Lovers'. Featuring lines like "When you're born a lover you're born to suffer", the new track is a gentle, ambient lullaby. Remixes are rumoured to lean leftwards this time (as we go to press, nothing is confirmed). But it'll no doubt help Depeche Mode to be the fashion that's anything but transient. As Gahan told Time Out before the release of 'Exciter': "There's been three very clear phases of Depeche Mode, and I think this is the beginning of a new one." Yep, the band that are usually perceived either as cool survivors or naff stadium geeks trying to be 'hard' just keep on refusing to bugger off. We obviously just can't get enough.
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GOODNIGHT LOVERS - released February 11, 2002
"The fourth single from last year's resoundingly well-received long-player 'Exciter' confirms the somewhat surprising but nonetheless commendable resurrection of Depeche Mode.
Almost as much a prayer as a track, 'Goonight Lovers' is a resolutely calm and reflective mesh of atmospherics, the embryonic incarnation subtly mirrored in rock and roll survivor Dave Gahan's gentle vocal lilt.
Elsewhere, amid the deep, soothing vocal mix, chiming electronic flourishes resonate to the close. Nothing very much happens, but then, as some people in this business could do with learning, less is often more."
Dotmusic, 30th January, 2002
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"A harmony-strewn lullaby from this lot. What on earth's going on?"
Huddersfield Daily Examiner, 11th February, 2002