Considering Depeche Mode can sell-out arenas and stadiums all over the world, the band’s March 15 South By Southwest appearance at Austin’s Brazos Theatre (capacity: 900) was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Whether Dave Gahan, Martin Gore and Andy Fletcher had a full appreciation of that, however, was not clear.
At a Q&A held two days prior, the group mentioned their upcoming “nightclub” show with little affectation — similar to how they responded to the first question from the audience: “Why come to South By?” Their answer, in a nutshell: we were told it would be a good thing to do.
So it should come as little surprise that Depeche’s 45-minute set felt a little like they were going through the motions. Fortunately, when it comes to the influential British threesome, even an average performance is a shining example of a group at the top of their game.
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Awash in purple, blue and red lights, Depeche kicked things off with “Angel” from the forthcoming , their 13th album (out March 22). The Gahan guns were on full display, as usual, as the singer sported his signature black leather vest. Those arms have become as much a trademark of Depeche’s legacy as Gore’s keyboard handywork. And they can all be thankful to still have their hair.
Still, it was hard not to notice an older crowd convened for the Friday night show — at least the ones who could get in, either via lottery or connection. Outside, the wristband contingent was slightly more wet behind the ears, but set list wise, it didn’t make much of a difference either way. Depeche wasn’t about to play too many oldies anyhow.
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Truth be told, the new songs sound good. ’s lead-off single “Heaven,” “Should Be Higher,” which had Gahan waving his arms in the air, and the moody “Soothe My Soul” all feature the group’s trademark harmonies and throbbing bass melodies rooted in the brooding baritone of the band’s frontman. Gahan’s vocals, often doubled several octaves higher by Gore, like on “Walking In My Shoes,” from 1993’s , sounded like a well-worn pair, as did “Personal Jesus” from 1989’s . They pulled another from the vaults, “Only When I Lose Myself,” a standalone single from 1998, and closed the night with 1989’s “Enjoy the Silence.”
Cueing the crowd to sing along to ’s anthemic chorus – “All I ever wanted / All I ever needed / Is here in my arms” — the room was anything but silent, and the fact that most knew the words instantly was a sign of their age as much as their fandom. But this being a heavy industry confab (the band recently signed a worldwide deal with Columbia Records) — among those in attendance for the show were label chairman Rob Stringer, Prospect Park partner and Jane’s Addiction manager Peter Katsis and music booker Scott Igoe — the appreciation made sense. Now if only the band could reciprocate a little more.
Should Be Higher
Walking in My Shoes
Barrel of a Gun
Only When I Lose Myself
Soft Touch/Raw Nerve
Soothe My Soul
Enjoy the Silence