Depeche Mode returned for an arena concert in DC for the first time in six years, and the band were simultaneously the same band and a very different act in their recent performance at Capital One Arena.
Same because they engendered extraordinary loyalty and fervor among dedicated admirers who go to lengths for Depeche Mode’s signature combination of blues-influenced rock guitar and haute electronic dance synthesizers.
Different because they have lost a founding member — Andrew Fletcher, at the age of 60 — since their last visit. And while the steady anchor provided by Fletch was missing, surviving founders Dave Gahan and Martin Gore infused the space there and beyond with pure *joy*.
At Capital One Arena on Oct. 23, Dave Gahan was a man in motion. Clearly, he was in a very good space, both physically and mentally. Always an active frontman, Gahan took his performance to the next level in DC on Monday, opening the show with a solemn rendition of “My Cosmos Is Mine” from their 15th studio album, Memento Mori, released by Columbia Records in May.
Dave started the show clad in a three-piece suit, and he effortlessly did several full-body squats prior to walking up to a microphone. Throughout the show, he twirled and danced in superb displays of showmanship, resetting the standard for what we might expect from a 61-year-old touring musician. He laughed, he smiled, he high-fived his bandmate Martin, and he was unstoppable. Clearly, sobriety and a happy marriage have been very good to Dave Gahan, and he in turn was very good for us.
Gahan delivered one of several showstopping moments early in the show when he paused during “Walking in My Shoes” from the fan-favorite album Songs of Faith and Devotion (1993). He held the moment and stared down the audience while pointing to his white leather footware in a gaze worthy of cinematic memorialization. Next to Memento Mori with five songs, Songs of Faith and Devotion received the most attention from its authors during this DC concert with four selections across the 23 song-setlist.
Despite his taste for slightly outrageous outfits, Martin Gore, both on guitar and on synthesizer, was the buttoned-up member of the band. Still, Gore remained an idiosyncratic heartthrob, and he made the audience swoon about one-third through the show when he took frontman duties for several songs, including “A Question of Lust” (from 1986’s Black Celebration) and “Soul with Me” (from Memento Mori).
During Martin’s turns at lead vocals, Dave refreshed himself and then returned with a new (stripped down) suit for “Ghosts Again,” the extremely good lead single from Memento Mori. In high spirits, Dave toasted Martin for having “the voice of an angel.”
Watch Depeche Mode perform “Ghosts Again” with the BBC Concert Orchestra on YouTube:
Loss is a familiar theme in Depeche Mode songs, whether loss of love or loss of self. And there was a feeling of loss in the absence of Fletch. Depeche Mode acknowledged and mourned their fallen bandmate during a performance of “World in My Eyes,” lifted from their re-energizing album Violator (1990). The giant screens onstage at Capital One Arena featured a photo of a young Andrew Fletcher. Soon, glasses materialized on his unadorned face. Then, a hand lifted to block his vision. It was a sweet and subtle nod to the man who stood at one of Depeche Mode’s powerful synth stations for four decades.
As powerful as the show already was, Depeche Mode saved the best for last, building to a magnificent close with the one-two punch of “John the Revelator” (from 2005’s Playing the Angel, an album that seems to only get better and better over time) and “Enjoy the Silence,” the mega, career-defining hit from Violator.
For me, the Violator songs were among the most welcome of the show, as the record appeared at a very influential time in my life. As a college freshman at the University of Delaware, I purchased the Violator CD from Rainbow Records on Main Street in Newark, Delaware, and played it endlessly in my dorm well into the next year. When I upgraded my DM albums to the remastered deluxe editions, I retained that original copy of Violator as a keepsake that I couldn’t bear to leave.
My admiration for Violator was rewarded with a powerful performance of “Personal Jesus” to close the encore. The encore also included early Depeche Mode songs “Just Can’t Get Enough” from debut record Speak & Spell (1981) and “Never Let Me Down Again” from Music for the Masses (1987) — two of Depeche Mode’s most revered tunes. Thanks to their deft blending of blues notes and electronic dance music, Depeche Mode stand head and shoulders above the crowd as music icons. And “Personal Jesus” and “Never Let Me Down Again” are two remarkable songs that showcase the Depeche DNA.
Watch the official music video for “Personal Jesus” by Depeche Mode on YouTube:
I’m a big fan of the first four Depeche Mode albums (and the debut honestly may be my favorite), and so it pleased me to no end to hear the singalong special “Just Can’t Get Enough.” Another favorite moment came early in the show when Depeche Mode played an awesome and smashing version of “Everything Counts” from Construction Time Again (1983), a song thankfully they always seem to embrace.
Beginning with Black Celebration, Depeche Mode definitely were responsible for digging a dark tunnel through the new wave ethos, and there are a lot of folks who hold stick to that tunneling as the greatest thing in music. Indeed, a slew of bands even today continue to double down on the dark wave beats of that blueprint, and they often do so with none of the poetry and a fraction of the musical ability.
But they forget, and hell even I forget, the freedom of Depeche Mode. Dave Gahan was the face of that freedom at Capital One Arena this week. He was beaming, bursting — shining with an incandescent that was irrepressible. Dave was thoroughly enjoying himself and I for one enjoyed seeing him because of it. His joie de vivre was infectious. You surely won’t be able to get enough when you see him.
Avail yourself of the opportunity to see Depeche Mode in action as there are plenty of dates remaining on this North American leg of the Memento Mori Tour. The band wrap it all up in Los Angeles on Dec. 17.
Here are some photos of Depeche Mode performing at Capital One Arena on Oct. 23, 2023. All pictures by Mickey McCarter.