Synth From Depeche Mode At Madison Square Garden
By Jon Caramanica ~
Dave Gahan’s voice has always had a disembodied quality, as if it were delivering stern disciplinarian instructions from an overhead speaker while a camera kept watch, making sure they were followed. That firmness was one of Depeche Mode’s anchors during the 1980s and early ’90s, first as new wave renegades, and later as innovators of industrial synth-pop.
It turns out, though, that Mr. Gahan is just a man, and one who likes to have fun at that: the body reveals the voice to be something of a lie. At Madison Square Garden on Monday night (there will be a second concert Tuesday), he was all smiles, even when his subject matter was gritty, a rock star long done with posing.
First appearing in a black blazer — later peeled off to reveal a black vest, later peeled off to reveal tattoos and a bare chest — and slicked-back hair, Mr. Gahan was debonair and feline, spinning like a figure skater and contorting his body, if not his voice.
His orders didn’t sound nearly so harsh as they do on record.In April Depeche Mode — Mr. Gahan, Martin Gore and Andrew Fletcher — released its 12th album, ‘Sounds Of The Universe’ (Mute/Capitol/Virgin), on which the group again sounds like a young band — in this case, a young band aspiring to make records like Depeche Mode made in the ’80s. It’s artful but not emphatic, overlooking the fact that the hard clang of synth against synth against drums against more synths was one of the things that set Depeche Mode apart from its softer peers.
Those albums were harsh, seductive and often dissolute documents of eroticism and power, or eroticism and vulnerability, depending on the song. In some places here, the band achieved a similar thrill. ‘Master and Servant’ pulsed with a cacophony of off-kilter synths. During ‘A Question Of Time’, Mr Gahan gamely fondled his crotch while eyeing imaginary prey. “You’re only 15/ and you look good,” he purred. “I’ll take you under my wing/ like somebody should.” ‘I Feel You’ was abrasively sexual, with Mr. Gahan returning his hand below his waist as Mr. Gore, on guitar, applied a roaring friction.Recent songs, though, were airless. ‘Hole to Feed’ and ‘Come Back’ had none of the ache of the band’s best material. And the effect was contagious, making some old songs (‘In Your Room’, ‘Precious’) sound new, for the worse.
Mr. Gore, switching between several guitars, was essential, poking through the haze with taut riffs. Oddly, for surprisingly long stretches of time, Mr. Fletcher merely stood behind his bay of keyboards, shaking his hips or grinning or both. Or neither. (The three band members were joined by two additional players on keyboards and on drums.)
Midshow, Mr. Gore, the band’s primary songwriter but its secondary character, took center stage to sing a pair of songs, including ‘Home’ from ‘Ultra’, one of the group’s later, lesser albums. Dressed in a sparkling silver outfit — vest, pants, cuffs — he was a loud sartorial retort to Mr. Gahan, though until this point, he’d stayed far out of the spotlight. ‘Home’ is one of the few Depeche Mode singles sung by Mr. Gore, who normally cuts Mr. Gahan’s tense vocals with high, delicate harmonies. Here, he was almost desperate; it was easily the night’s most disruptive moment, but also the most moving. Had Mr. Gahan sung the same words, it would have sounded like defiance. But from Mr. Gore they’re tender, evidence of the beating heart beneath Depeche Mode’s rigor.
Source: The New York Times