Depeche Mode at Aaron’s Amphitheater, Atlanta
by Kerry Reid
They say time travel isn’t possible – but I would argue it is. Last Thursday night in Atlanta, synth titans Depeche Mode, on tour to promote their latest release, “Delta Machine,” took me on a whirlwind musical timeline of my life. Playing a 21-song set spanning more than 30 years, the band transformed me from gangly kid to brooding teen to middle-aged audiophile all in the span of just two-and-a-half hours. It was simply amazing.
Any concern among the decidedly Gen X crowd at Aaron’s Amphitheater that the definitive, but aging English techno rockers might disappoint was squashed in the opening number reverb of “Welcome to My World,” their most recent single. The band emerged in black; guitarist and songwriter Martin Gore and keyboardist Andy Fletcher stood behind synthesizers while lead singer Dave Gahan, clad in a suit and Cuban heels spun pirouettes to the microphone.
At a time when most rock elder statesmen are gearing down, Gahan, 51 — who over the course of his career has survived a heroin addiction, cancer, a heart attack and two divorces — is clearly at the top of his game, and his utter charisma is a large part of what makes them such a great live act. By the third song, “Walking in My Shoes,” from 1993’s “Songs of Faith and Devotion,” the suit jacket and vest were shed to reveal a six-pack and biceps that belied his age, and from the first note, a rich, baritone that has held up well. Gahan, with all of his strutting, sauntering, and sashaying like a Goth Mick Jagger, has the dark eroticism and dangerous seductiveness of a stranger with candy – you know shouldn’t trust him, but you’re too hypnotized not to.
Gahan is not the only gun in the arsenal, and one of the most crowd-pleasing moments was when he left the stage and Gore, the band’s sensitive, creative force, emerged center stage to sing a poignant, slowed-down rendition of “But Not Tonight,” from 1986’s “Black Celebration.” Accompanied by only soft piano music and the voices of nearly 19,000 people in attendance, Gore’s darkened-stage serenade shows that when deconstructed, the songs are not about synthesizers or gimmicks, but truly beautiful songwriting.
The five songs from “Delta Machine” buttressed nicely with the staples from throughout their career, including those from 1990’s “Violator” hey-day which generated the most excited crowd response. Other standouts included a slow grinding, bluesy rendition of “Personal Jesus,” which allowed Gore to show off his guitar skills and Gahan to ramp up his hip swiveling and the lively, I-can’t-wipe-the-smile-off-my-face dance number, “Just Can’t Get Enough” from 1981’s “Speak and Spell.”
A typical arena rock show, the production was highly stylized, this time complemented by stunning movie images filmed by Dutch filmmaker and frequent music collaborator Anton Corbijn, which played on the gargantuan screen behind them and accentuated the songs well. (The most talked-about and visually interesting of which were the movements of female contortionists during “Enjoy the Silence.”)
Following a five-song encore, which included the Godfrapp remix of Halo, the middle-aged throngs left the amphitheater, many claiming it had been the best show they had ever seen, and I knew then that I had not been the only time traveler that night.
(Photos by Kelley Burnham Brown)