Last Tuesday at the Santa Barbara Bowl, Depeche Mode brought a show which would fill the Staple’s Center two nights later, thus creating the rarest of concert phenomena — a show that was massive in scale, yet somehow remained utterly intimate.
United by nostalgic fervor, fans sporting black shirts set down their nachos and pizza slices to sing along with longtime frontman David Gahan as the show kicked off with “Welcome to My World.” Gahan, who’s been named in various polls as “one of the best lead men in rock,” slithered arout the stage, removing his shiny jacket, and then his shiny vest, before ending up shirtless, much to the delight of the black lipstick-wearing members of the audience.
The monolithic video screen behind the band stayed transfixed on Gahan for much of the show. Martin Gore and David Fletcher appeared relatively subdued behind their instruments while Gahan lurked about, shaking his butt. When the triangle-shaped screens weren’t focused on Gahan, they displayed an array of bizarre imagery — for one song, we were treated to a slideshow of short video clips of dogs licking their lips and standing attentively. Another song was complimented by cringe-worthy (and utterly awe-inspiring) images of contortionists, and another of fire eaters and dancers. There were also images of the band, walking in fields or on rocky beaches, standing next to old barns, playing guitar or drums with sticks, and looking at the ground, occasionally in the company of triangles.
Depeche Mode at the Santa Barbara Bowl
The stage was eventually left to Gore, accompanied only by a pianist, for stripped-down renditions of “But Not Tonight” and “The Child Inside,” which had fans singing along to such a degree that that Gahan, upon returning to the stage, asked for applause for the “Santa Barbara Choir.”
But most impressive of all was the length of the set, which was delivered enthusiastically in it’s entirety by a group that could just as easily have rest on its laurels. And speaking of laurels, the set-ending rendition of “Personal Jesus” was nothing short of awe-inspiring.
Then, following an encore that saw Gore return for two more solo ballads, Depeche Mode closed with “Just Can’t Get Enough,” the lyrics of which probably never rang more true.