Ever since the release of 1989’s 101 (the dense live album and documentary focused on the band’s famed 1988 Rose Bowl concert), the cult following behind Depeche Mode has blossomed into a community, a black celebration of its songs of devotion, if you choose. The last true British electronic band that mattered has forever spread its gospel of melancholy, mortality and obsession, couched in stark Euro-electronica—and made a rousing party of it all in a live setting.
For Memento Mori—Depeche Mode’s first album and tour since the passing of original member Andrew Fletcher—fellow co-founders Dave Gahan and Martin Gore luxuriated in that worship on the stage of Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center, playing into the thundering applause of the sold-out audience with the rarity of group hugs and beaming smiles. Hell, they even sang “Happy Birthday” to a rabid fan in one of the front rows before stepping offstage at night’s end. That’s downright jolly.
With Gahan’s clear and brooding baritone and Gore’s soft, angelic harmonies in their fullest flower, the quartet—featuring longtime touring members Christian Eigner (drums) and Peter Gordeno (keyboard, guitar)—came closest to the dusky electronic scowl of its earliest incarnations. Commencing its two-hour-plus set with a pair of meditative dirges from Memento Mori (“My Cosmos Is Mine” and “Wagging Tongue”), it was immediately apparent that its newest tracks fit easily into the tilted, somber mood swings of soon-to-follow classics such as “Walking In My Shoes” and “Policy Of Truth.”
With that, Memento Mori’s boldest, most vulnerable moments, such as “Before We Drown” and the wobbly, bass-driven “Ghosts Again” (with a backdrop of a Bergman-esque, black-and-white video of Gore and Gahan playing death chess), continued on throughout the evening with Depeche Mode’s stern musicality and tortured lyrical takes on mortality and adherence threaded easily through Gore’s catalog of warped comradery (“Never Let Me Down Again”), fried sexuality (a particularly dirty “I Feel You”) and slimy business (“Everything Counts”).
Playing to the heart of its electronic starting point, moments such as the Kraftwerk-like “In Your Room,” “Black Celebration” and “Stripped” reminded the crowd of Depeche Mode’s innovations. Yet, there were so many deeply memorable Gore guitar lines to be displayed, from “I Feel You” to the cowboy twang of “Personal Jesus” All that, and Gore’s finest, most angel-winged moments came not just from his slowly dramatic solo vocal of “A Question Of Lust,” but its piano-backed follow-up, sotto voce Memento Mori cut “Soul With Me.” If Gore ever wanted to do his own cabaret show, these two tracks would lead off each night. And Gahan? When he wasn’t performing his usual stage spins and bent preenings, his voice was in its finest fettle ever on the puckish electro of “World In My Eyes” (dedicated to the late Fletch) and in harmony with brother-in-charm Gore on the surprise rendition of “Waiting For The Night,” backed by the fuzziest of electric-piano sounds.
Everything counted for Depeche Mode on Wednesday night, and no one left unfulfilled.
—A.D. Amorosi; photos by Chris Sikich