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Depeche Mode digs deep into band's canon for engaging show

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Fans at First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre found Depeche Mode to be fighting fit on Saturday night. The performance was the second of the synth-pop pioneers’ North American tour supporting their potent new “Delta Machine” album.

“Delta Machine” was represented by five songs that made a strong case for Depeche Mode’s ongoing relevance after thirty-three years together. “Welcome to My World” featured brazen sonics that might have stretched the band’s comfort zone in earlier days, threading a line between Radiohead’s experimental laptop rhythms and deep hip-hop bass. The swaggering and bluesy “Angel” might have fit nicely among Nick Cave’s recent output.

Strutting singer Dave Gahan’s baritone was rich and clear from the beginning, filling “Walking in My Shoes” with power and conviction. Decades-old hits including “Enjoy the Silence” were performed with infectious enthusiasm. Silence was definitely not on the menu, however. Gahan reveled in the sea of voices provided by the crowd.

Wary of electronic music’s rigid nature, the band dropped the metronomic time of its signature rhythm loops occasionally and rocked without them. Drummer Christian Eigner added a furious punk rock coda to the slinky “Soothe My Soul.” “A Pain That I’m Used To” was propelled by Peter Gordeno’s bass guitar rather than his meticulous synthesizer. “Personal Jesus” began as a slow grind before erupting with Martin Gore’s familiar ping-ponging guitar riff.

Given one of pop music’s heftier catalogs of hits, Depeche Mode’s set list omissions were arguably as surprising as what was included. Albums including 1984’s popular “Some Great Reward” were overlooked. As a result, “People are People,” “Blasphemous Rumours” and “Master and Servant” went unplayed. So did earlier single “Everything Counts.”

The payoff arrived in the form of deeper cuts, including “Black Celebration” with its dazzling light show. The crowd also embraced an intimate moment as songwriter Gore sang a deconstructed “Shake the Disease,” supported only by piano and audience choir.

During the encore, Depeche Mode dug into its 1981 debut “Speak and Spell” for the jubilant “Just Can’t Get Enough.” The set closed, however, with the ominous industrial crunch of “Never Let Me Down Again.”

Bat For Lashes’ opening set demonstrated why Natasha Khan’s boundary-stretching third album “The Haunted Man” topped so many best-of lists last year. Khan fearlessly examined her inner self through songs like the album’s alternately fragile and majestic “Lilies.”

With unconventional song structures rooted in accessible pop music, Khan’s closest kindred spirit in song has been identified as Kate Bush. On Saturday, the comparison was enhanced by Khan’s agile, breathy soprano voice. Secondary connections have been drawn to Björk’s affinity for musical exploration. Parallels aside, Khan has evolved into a formidable artist with her own clear vision.

“What’s a Girl to Do” from Bat For Lashes’ debut described the everyday tragedy of a relationship’s fading spark. The restless title track from “The Haunted Man” followed suit, wavering between holding on and letting go. Khan held a speaker box aloft for the song’s male chorus section, a theatrical move reminiscent of lovesick Lloyd Dobler from 1989 film “Say Anything.”

Depeche Mode set list:

“Welcome to My World”

“Angel”

“Walking in My Shoes”

“Precious”

“Black Celebration”

“Policy of Truth”

“Should Be Higher”

“Barrel of a Gun”

“Higher Love” (sung by Martin Gore)

“Shake the Disease” (sung by Martin Gore)

“Heaven”

“Soothe My Soul”

“A Pain That I’m Used To”

“A Question of Time”

“Enjoy the Silence”

“Personal Jesus”

Encore:

“Home” (sung by Martin Gore)

“Halo”

“Just Can’t Get Enough”

“I Feel You”

“Never Let Me Down Again”

Jeff Elbel is a Sun-Times free-lance writer. Email: elbel.jeff@gmail.com