Depeche Mode at Shoreline amphitheatre, 04/27/06
Depeche Mode is a special band in my life. I've been a fan since age 14 - back home, when few other Western bands were available, I quickly fell in love with their technicians sound, charisma and lyrics I could almost understand and almost relate to. My first introduction to Depeche Mode was their Violator album, accidentally left behind by an American visitor student to our school. Interestingly, my growing passion for their music coincided with the enormous rise of their popularity in the USSR. I doubt there has ever been a country where a single band has had such a loyal following. As I acquired, one by one, all of their albums, I discovered myself in a huge community of 'depeshes', or Depeche Mode fans in Minsk.
There were even Soviet imitation bands, one of which, Technologia, has achieved a very nice quality of sound indeed, and not just by imitation, but by their own music. I think the image projected by earlier Depeche Mode was the one of great appeal to Russian youths - tough, technogenic, indifferent, somewhat rebellious, leather-clad and brooding. I am not sure Depeche Mode has actually intended to relay that image to the masses - after all, most of their songs are rather sensuous and quite candid, not entirely in line with the tough and sombre image of the band, but the level of English of their Soviet fans was never strong enough to gather that, and thus one of the great musical legends was born.
The first time I saw Depeche Mode live was in Pittsburgh in 1994, on their Devotional tour. They were still a four, and it was one of the best concerts of my life. Dave Gahan still had a powerful voice, Alan Wilder still did arrangements for the instrumentation, and Martin Gore still played keyboards on stage. I think I might even still have the concert's t-shirt somewhere in my mother's closet.
Alas, lots has changed with the band since then. One of the members has left, another one nearly killed himself, and the albums of the band as a trio, in my opinion, never reached nearly the level of musical quality of their earlier years. Lots has changed in my life, too. Sadly, no longer can a music band profoundly influence my life and no longer do I idolize someone just because they sing on stage or write catchy songs.
Still, the heritage and influence of Depeche Mode on my life had been to strong to forget in the course of a couple of years. Every so often, I'd listen to their old albums and even make mixed CDs of their songs.
So when I found out the band was coming to San Francisco, I did not hesitate to get the very expensive tickets to their concert in Shoreline amphitheatre.
Discourse Shoreline amphitheatre is located in South San Francisco Bay, much closer to San Jose than to San Francisco, and therefore is quite a drag to get to. The sole road to the arena was completely clogged by cars, so that it took about an hour to get from the exit to the parking lot for the concert - a distance of maybe 2 miles. The arena itself, however, is nicely situated on the marshy shores of the Bay, under the balmy Californian air.
While waiting through some bands I never heard of to finish their opening act, my friend and I had a couple of overpriced beers, and finally made our way to our seats: the main act was about to begin.
I will not go into miniscule details about the concert itself; I will say one thing - Depeche Mode is no longer what they used to be. Whether it's due to their age, difficult time in the 1990s, losing a key band-member - I don't know. Dave Gahan looked and sounded tired, almost a pale shadow of his former self. He was clearly favouring his voice for the upcoming Coachella festival in Southern California. His famous voice sounded rather screechy and he couldn't quite take the high notes. From time to time, Dave would try to make some "funky" movements on stage, but they looked more comical than cool, especially him wiggling his rear end with the said end facing the audience. Frankly, he looked more comical than cool. Martin Gore sounded and looked better, but with him playing the guitar instead of the keyboards, it somehow just didn't look right to me. There was an unknown blond drummer on the stage, as well as a keyboard player. I mean, someone had to play keyboards, for fuck's sake, this is Depeche Mode! It's not as if Andrew Fletcher was going to do it. He had a set all right, but I doubt it was even connected to the speakers. I had binoculars, and every so often I'd check him out. He'd tap on some buttons with index fingers from time to time; most other times he'd just stand there, smoking, smiling like a fool or pretending to sing into the mike. I have no idea why Andrew Fletcher has been with Depeche Mode, as I am still very doubtful of his contribution to anything musical the band has ever created.
Martin's voice was still all right, when he sang the acoustic version of 'Shake the Disease'. But even he looked somewhat awkward, as if all these years of touring and being famous finally started to take their toll.
Thankfully, the band didn't play much from their new album; they knew what the crowd had come for and delivered a decent dose of good ol' stuff: 'Stripped', 'Never Let Me Down Again', 'Enjoy the Silence', 'In Your Room', 'A Question of Time', 'World in my Eyes' and others. My personal favourites of the night were the never failing crowd-pleaser 'Behind the Wheel' and a crazy 2006 version of the 1981 Vince Clark's smashing hit 'Photographic'.
the concert was surprisingly short - no more than 1 hour 45 minutes. When it was over, it was over, and time to rush back to the car to try to beat the crowd.
I'm glad I went this one last time. But I doubt I would ever go to such great lengths to see the idols of my youth again. They sound much better on my iPod.