Depeche Mode at the MN State Fair Grandstand, 8/27/13
Photo By Steve Cohen
With Bat For Lashes
Minnesota State Fair Grandstand, St. Paul
Tuesday, August 27, 2013
Depeche Mode brought a welcome bit of darkness to the Great Minnesota Get-Together, as the mercurial British synth-pop legends delivered an edgy, impassioned two-hour set that delighted the 7,700 dedicated fans who were still mostly clad in all black, despite the sweltering summer heat. It was the band's first Twin Cities appearance in 12 years, and the show was equally steeped in the lingering power of nostalgia as well as the urgency of the modern day, as the group blended five twitchy tracks from their current record, Delta Machine, amongst the 21-song set full of soaring, moody hits from their past. These numbers haven't lost a bit of their poignant charm over the years and soared under the warm night sky.
After the hypnotic pre-show techno gradually gave way to a rumbling, foreboding electronic hum, guitarist Martin Gore, and keyboardists Andy Fletcher and Peter Gordeno looked a bit like Kraftwerk as they all settled in behind their banks of keys while frontman David Gahan pirouetted confidently onto the stage. The set launched with the fitting new song, "Welcome to My World," with the lyrics to the pulsing track appearing graffiti-like on the massive screens behind the band. The sultry and sinister "Angel" quickly followed, with Gore switching to guitar as the backdrop was dramatically awash in blood-red lighting, while Gahan spun around wildly as he quickly grew comfortable with his surroundings.
"Good evening, St. Paul," Gahan exclaimed warmly before the band launched into a textured and tense version of "Walking in My Shoes," with David trying for the first of many times to elicit a crowd singalong that ended up being mostly drowned out by the towering electro-pop grooves the band were generating as well as the on point drumming of Christian Eigner. Gahan displayed plenty of hip-shaking, Elvis-like moves throughout the show, looking nothing like an aging 51-year-old rock star. In fact, these hyper-sensual, highly provocative numbers would have lost plenty of their seductive appeal if Gahan were anything less than the taut, sinewy rock star he still most assuredly is.
After friendly images of dogs oddly augmented the bitter sting of "Precious," the spaceship-like lighting rigs that hung precipitously above the band descended a bit, adding a saturnine radiance to "Black Celebration," which got the die-hards in the crowd roaring, bringing a deep bow from Gahan. Smoke filled the stage as the band eased their way into "Policy of Truth," which found Gahan dramatically unbuttoning his vest. The sexy, rhythmic anthem proved to be one of the early standouts of the set.
Photos By Steve Cohen
Blazing slow-motion images of fire dancers then filled the screens and the risers that the band were standing on, amplifying the intensity of "Should Be Higher," while Gore donned a sparkling silver, five-pointed star guitar for a throbbing take of "Barrel of a Gun," with David strutting around assertively in time with the track's massive beats. Gahan then ceded the stage to Gore, who took over vocal duties on tender renditions of "Higher Love" and the stirring "Shake the Disease," which featured just Martin on vocals accompanied solely by Gordeno's mournful keyboard strains as the stage was appropriately filled with hopeful blue lights. Gore rose his arms triumphantly in the air as he brought the touching song to an elegiac end, with his sparkling bracelets catching the glint of the stage lights, reflecting them out brightly into the night sky.
Gahan perhaps realized how moving that moment truly was, as he gave Gore a big hug as he returned to the stage. Sadly, it took a while for the band to recapture the magic they had built up earlier in the performance, as the set lurched forward with tepid versions of new songs "Heaven," "Soothe My Soul," and an uneven run through of "A Pain That I'm Used To." Even the typically exultant "A Question of Time" was robbed a bit of its majesty by Gahan insisting the crowd sing the soaring chorus, and we ended up being overpowered by the crisp, electro-pop arrangements of the band and the song never really took flight.
A splendid version of "Enjoy the Silence" quickly gave the latter part of the set the spark it so desperately needed, with bold images of uncomfortably contorted women filling the screen and driving home the fragile emotions of the song. The track featured a samba-like rhythmic breakdown as David got loose all over the stage, before Gore added some stylish staccato guitar riffs to the mix, causing Gahan to drop to his knees before him while singing the exasperated final lines directly into the pickup of Martin's guitar.
Photos By Steve Cohen
An absolutely massive version of "Personal Jesus" began with a bluesy, ominous groove, featuring Gahan swinging his vest around brazenly before the song erupted. The now-shirtless frontman strutted and shimmied his way around the stage as the track took on a swampy, sinister sound, with the crowd throwing their hands in the air and singing the chorus back to the band in full voice. Gore then took over, bringing the song and the main set to a close in a haze of triumphant guitar squall.
The three triangular screens were filled with neon-drenched images of Gahan, Gore, and Fletcher during the brief encore break, before Martin and Gordeno returned alone for a sweet version of "Home," which became a touching ode to finding a place to call your own, as well as a poignant way for Gore to thank the band's longtime fans. Gahan then returned to the stage and paid a heartfelt compliment to "the beautiful voice of Mr. Martin Gore," before leading the band through an uneven, reworked rendition of "Halo" that took its musical cues from Goldfrapp's haunting remix of the track.
The song was ultimately made memorable by the striking video (most of the night's clips were done by longtime DM collaborator Anton Corbijn) which featured half of a blood red anarchy symbol that perfectly framed the wintry, desolated images that an isolated woman seemed lost in.
Photos By Steve Cohen
The encore really snapped to life with a jubilant, triumphant take on "Just Can't Get Enough," which featured close-up images of the band lit up in Pop Art colors on the screens behind the group, with the crowd dancing and singing along, lost in the boundless spirit of the celebratory number. Gahan jumped up on the amps at the side of the stage, to encourage the crowd to join him in the unifying chorus as well as shake his ass to the song's infectious rhythm.
The filthy, enormous riffs of "I Feel You" kept the energy level of the encore at a peak, with "Bastards of Young"-like closeups of speakers framed the band while a brightly lit go-go dancer got down on the screens. Gore eventually let the song dissolve into a wall of discord, before a massive, textured, keys-laden take on "Never Let Me Down Again" closed out the night triumphantly.
Gore sang out the appropriate closing lines, "See the stars they're shining bright, everything's alright tonight" which rang out true under the sweltering summer night sky. The group came together for a well-earned group bow before exchanging passionate hugs with one another as the crowd roared their approval, and the dark, moody clouds hanging over the fair for the previous two hours gave way to fireworks and stunned appreciation of a band who still stirs our hearts.
Personal Bias: While this was my first time seeing Depeche Mode perform live, I've had a deep connection with the band since I lost my virginity while listening to "Enjoy the Silence."
The Crowd: A mix of old school fans of the band, newer listeners, families, and those just curious to see the show, a perfect example of the broad appeal of Depeche Mode's songs.
Overheard At The Fair: "I'm going to need some more of that Big Fat Bacon."
Random Notebook Dump 1: I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to meet the band before the show, and while Gahan appreciated the all-black T-shirts of both our trusty editor and Current DJ Jake Rudh, my all-white Spiritualized tee didn't get any love from the band. Though I did get to warmly shake all of their hands, which was an absolute thrill that I'm still giddy about.
Photo By Steve Cohen
Random Notebook Dump 2: Bat For Lashes put on an absolutely transfixing opening set, with the captivating Natasha Khan's glorious voice and charming personality easily winning over the slow-arriving crowd. "Horse And I," "Laura," and "The Haunted Man" all connected, with Khan augmenting the latter track with an old-timey radio which broadcast what sounded like a military choir who delivered the chorus while she held it in front of her microphone. She even lifted it up triumphantly above her head, looking like Lloyd Dobler (from Say Anything) as she brought the song dramatically to a close. The band even got some of the crowd (including this reviewer) dancing with the swinging set closer, "Daniel." I've seen Bat For Lashes twice before, and Natasha and co. have always delivered a stirring set.
Welcome To My World
Walking In My Shoes
Policy Of Truth
Should Be Higher
Barrel Of A Gun
Shake The Disease
Soothe My Soul
A Pain That I'm Used To
A Question Of Time
Enjoy The Silence
Just Can't Get Enough
I Feel You
Never Let Me Down Again
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