'New' Depeche Mode lacks old exhilaration


September 13, 1993|By J. Doug Gill | J. Doug Gill,Contributing Writer

As the last full year of media hype has reminded us, the "new" Depeche Mode is as warm and fuzzy as an A.A. Milne character. Quite a feat, when you consider the Mode made their reputation on icebergs of Arctic-cold synthesizers.

So, in spite of the user-friendly nature of the band's latest album, "Songs of Faith and Devotion," I approached the USAir Arena (formerly the Capital Centre) with more than just a hint of skepticism.

Could these pioneers of keyboard squawks and honks successfully transfer their electronic vision to a low-tech environment? The answer is a resoundingly ambiguous kind of.

A venue the size of Merriweather would have been a far more suitable locale for the Mode's synthetic bombast. The cavernous arena echoed the relentless thumping for nearly the entire 100-minute set.

And even though the pace eased as songwriter Martin Gore strummed a guitar through "Walking in My Shoes," I would have given anything for a cut of the Tylenol concession.

As is their wont, Depeche Mode didn't make it any easier for the large audience, concentrating mostly on material from their two most recent albums. Sprinkling favorites from their earlier efforts throughout the set, rather than piling them up at the beginning, would have gone a long way in cutting the computerized chill.

Still, after opening act Matt Johnson and his band The The (yeah, that's what they're called) tore the house down with their blues-based alternative set, the Mode show got under way in dramatic fashion. From pitch blackness came a whirlwind of thunder and lightning effects, and the quartet was silhouetted -- against huge curtains that masked the front of the stage.

Lead vocalist David Gahan was in fine form; versatile enough to move convincingly from slow dirges like "Condemnation" to neo-pop exploratories such as "World in My Eyes."

Brilliant versions of "Policy of Truth" and "Masters and Servants" wiped the floor with the more recent material, and as the driving keyboard riff of the latter tune hung like fog, I rediscovered the intoxicating nature that brought synth-pop its heyday.

That's not to say I welcome the mid-'80s style back with open arms. Instead, I questioned whether or not a "new" Depeche Mode was even necessary.

The band's storied past definitely deserves wider recognition in their live set. For those who were around in the Mode's glory days, we can't help being sorry to witness the digression from pioneers to simply being one of the crowd.

The old Depeche Mode expanded pop fans' taste. The new Depeche Mode, I'm sad to say, is expanding their pop fan base.

By the way, I didn't like the "new" Coke either.

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