In United Center show, Depeche Mode proves they still have plenty to give musically

The song platter was a well-constructed, fan dream set that pulled from every era, and like any good Depeche Mode album, moved the crowd through a range of emotions,

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Dave Gahan and Depeche Mode perform at the United Center on Wednesday night.

Dave Gahan leads Depeche Mode in concert at the United Center on Wednesday night.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

On the heels of releasing “Memento Mori” (translating to “remember, we must die”) their 15th studio album, Depeche Mode on their latest tour finds the British electro rock giants mired in the existentialism of life and death at a defining juncture. Yet, witnessing the two-hour, 23-song mega-show quickly becomes a beautiful, life-affirming display of a band that, 43 years in, still has so much left to give.

The atmosphere of the show — which touched down at United Center Wednesday night and marks the band’s first tour in five years — could best be summed up as one incredible, complicated eulogy: to fallen comrade Andrew “Fletch” Fletcher, one of the band’s founding members who died suddenly last year. And maybe also to Sire Records co-founder Seymour Stein, who passed away earlier this month, and who first introduced Depeche Mode to the U.S. But in many ways the concert also commemorated the ending of one chapter and the rest and peace found in discovering a new beginning.

Martin Gore (left) and Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode performs for a sold-out crowd at the United Center on Wednesday night.

Martin Gore (left) and Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode performs for a sold-out crowd at the United Center on Wednesday night.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

For the first time in their four decades together, Depeche Mode is now effectively a duo, and the alchemy that once drew Dave Gahan and Martin Gore together feels even more potent in present day. In recent interviews, the two have commented how Fletch’s passing brought them closer as friends and collaborators, and that feeling was palpable on the stage, whether it was the perfectly paired vocals on songs like the new single “Ghosts Again,” the reflective bow they gave to each other after “In Your Room,” or the shared embrace upon completing a stripped-back take of 1993 hit “Condemnation” during the encore.

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The duo’s onstage relationship still remains a beautiful case of opposites attract. Gore is still the more demure, tortured poet with perfect pitch. Gahan is the alluring showman who baits with sensuality and soulful pipes. Gahan’s delightful twirling and both of their vocals have been so well-preserved it only adds to the timelessness of the synth pop pioneers. They remain monolithic in the electro rock pantheon and are helping to usher in a huge year of goth rock that also brings tour dates from The Cure and Sisters of Mercy.

This time, however, it just feels different. The air over the sold-out crowd began heavier and more subdued than normal for a Depeche Mode show. That tone was set in the first few minutes as the set started with “Memento Mori” songs “My Cosmos Is Mine” and “Wagging Tongue.” Both exploded with heartfelt rumminations on loss and the curiosity of what happens during transition into another plane of existence. Space-age background noise, bright spotlights that appeared to come from beyond yonder, and deep amber hues that lit up the baseboards of the stage only added to the effect.

Martin Gore with Depeche Mode performs at the United Center.

Martin Gore performs at the United Center.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

The quartet delivered small doses of “Memento Mori” throughout the night, showcasing some of the band’s best material in decades. The most gripping came via a Martin Gore solo of the album’s standout track, the R&B-fused confessional “Soul With Me,” so core-touching it made you want to reach out and embrace him. Gahan appeared moved himself, taking a moment to commend the “beautiful angelic voice of Martin Gore” afterwards.

Gore and Gahan have not dared to replace Fletch on the tour but continue to be flanked by longtime tour personnel, the dextrous Peter Gordeno on keys and backing vocals, and the relentless drummer Christian Eigner. Together, they created a giant wall of sound and, huge production values aside, found a way to create intimacy in each defining moment.

The rest of the song platter was a well-constructed, fan dream set that pulled from every era and, like any good Depeche Mode album, moved the crowd through a range of emotions, from swiveling dance numbers to sensual come hithers to deep revelations. Inside the set was their first big hit, the kitschy “Just Can’t Get Enough” as well as the “Violator” gem “Personal Jesus,” and a salutary version of “World in My Eyes” paying homage to Fletcher as his image was superimposed on the video screens. “Never Let Me Down Again” (recently featured on HBO’s “The Last of Us”) was the penultimate highlight, Gahan bidding the multi-generational crowd to engage in the trademark arm wave that has become a cornerstone of the song’s live performances.

There were moments suggesting Depeche Mode may be coming to grips with their own ultimate fate as a band. It can only be hoped that the new album and tour is not some kind of Bowie “Blackstar” pre-prophecy of their swan song. At least there’s one guarantee — they will be back Nov. 13 for another United Center romp, and it’s one not to be missed.

Set List

  • My Cosmos Is Mine
  • Wagging Tongue
  • Walking In My Shoes
  • It’s No Good
  • Sister of Night
  • In Your Room
  • Everything Counts
  • Precious
  • Speak To Me
  • A Question of Lust
  • Soul With Me
  • Ghosts Again
  • I Feel You
  • A Pain That I’m Used To
  • World In My Eyes
  • Wrong
  • Stripped
  • John the Revelator
  • Enjoy the Silence (break)

ENCORE

  • Condemnation
  • Just Can’t Get Enough
  • Never Let Me Down Again
  • Personal Jesus
Kelly Lee Owens opens for Depeche Mode at the United Center on Wednesday night in Chicago.

Kelly Lee Owens opens for Depeche Mode at the United Center on Wednesday night in Chicago.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Time


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