March 25, 2023
Photos by Nikki Baptista
Depeche Mode is still the world’s biggest cult band. Despite being the best-selling electronic band of all time and being inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2020, the band is still not as well-known as their reputation would have you think, despite still being able to fill stadiums. This was the case at the SAP Center in San Jose, where the band was able to sell out the second night of their tour in support of their new album, Memento Mori.
Starting the show with a mostly dark stage, the band, now consisting solely of front-man Dave Gahan and principal songwriter Martin Gore (along with live keyboardist/bassist Peter Gordeno and drummer Christian Eigner), opened the show with the lurching, tense, and uneasy first song on Memento Mori, “My Cosmos Is Mine.” Despite lacking the immediacy and punch of set starters from recent tours, the song was a perfect mood-setter, letting the audience know that they were in for an evening led by a band that’s always walked a fine line between pop accessibility and electronic experimentation, Dave singing, “Don’t play with my world / Don’t mess with my mind.”
What followed was a setlist comprised mostly of singles throughout the band’s 40+ year career. But to call the set simply an exercise of the band playing “just the hits” would be a gross misjudgment. There was no “People Are People,” no “Policy Of Truth,” no “Strangelove” or “A Question Of Time.” In their place were three of the four singles from 2005’s Playing The Angel and, surprisingly, “Wrong,” the lead single from their 2009 album Sounds Of The Universe. Of course there were the big hits: “Personal Jesus,” “Just Can’t Get Enough,” “Enjoy The Silence,” and “Never Let Me Down Again” all made an appearance, but they didn’t feel like the focus of the evening, most of them not appearing until towards the end of the show.
One of the most immediate things that I noticed was how powerful and timeless both Dave and Martin’s voices still are. Whether singing the chorus of “Everything Counts” or taking the lead on “A Question Of Lust,” Martin Gore’s voice just hasn’t aged over time at all. And then there’s Dave Gahan. The eternally youthful front-man, twirling and shaking his butt at the audience at the drop of a hat, yet never singing a bum note or missing a beat. When the two sing together, like on the chorus of “It’s No Good,” is when you truly notice the magic that the two have together.
There are two elephants in the room that I have to address. The first is the inclusion of songs from the Memento Mori album. How do songs that are, at this point, less than a week old stack against classics that, in some cases, are older than me? I think that they work beautifully in the setlist that the band has put together. The band has surrounded them with songs that work with them and elevates them to the status of older, more weathered songs in their catalogue. If I had one complaint about them, it would be that I could have stood to have seen one or two more newer songs in place of some of their classics!
The other elephant in the room is the loss of Andrew Fletcher. The only other original member of the band who had been in it from the start, he unfortunately passed away last year, right as the band was gearing up to enter the recording studio. For years, whenever asked what his favorite Depeche Mode song was, he always answered with “World In My Eyes.” So it was only fitting that, during the aforementioned song, an image of Fletch, taken from the 1990 Violator sessions by long-time band visualizer Anton Corbijn, was shown on the massive screen behind the band. Dave stood looking at it at the beginning of the song for a few moments, and the emotional weight of it all was not lost on me. The song felt like a truly fitting tribute to the fallen band member.
When a band with as large of a catalogue puts together a setlist, of course there are going to be songs included that don’t please every fan. Being a massive fan of the band myself, I wasn’t expecting to see anything too surprising. So you can imagine my shock when, early on in the set, they played “Sister Of Night,” an album track from their 1997 album Ultra, this tour being the first time that Dave has sang it live. The true surprise, and probably the highlight of the show for me, was the first song of the encore. Martin and Dave took to the extended stage that went out into the audience to duet “Waiting For The Night.” The song has always been one of my favorites of the band, and it’s one I never expected to see them play. The moment felt like a true triumph: Martin and Dave singing and standing together, celebrating the legacy of the band that they’ve been in for over 40 years now. At the end of the song, the two faced each other, bowed, and finally embraced. Yes, there was still the rest of the encore left, but for me this was the moment that truly celebrated the longevity of Depeche Mode.
Opener Kelly Lee Owens is someone that’s been on my radar since her self-titled debut came out in 2017. Focusing mostly on arpeggiated synth lines and aggressive analogue electronic percussion, with occasional vocals. It’s right up my alley, and I was pleasantly surprised that the rest of the audience was equally engaged with it. Owens throws her whole body into her performance at points, whether it’s stomping her legs up dramatically as the beats of “On” ramp up, or stepping out from between her synth setup during her closer “Melt!” If you’re planning on attending any of the upcoming Depeche Mode shows with her on as support, do not show up late.