BY DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Depeche Mode’s performance Sunday night before a packed house at the SAP Pavilion in San Jose was a highly polished and well choreographed spectacle. To some, coming from a band with a hit titled “Never Let Me Down Again,” it was also something of letdown for what it didn’t offer coming from a group that’s sold over 100 million records worldwide.
Formed in Essex, England back in the early 80’s, the band’s core of lead vocalist Dave Gahan, guitarist Martin Gore and keyboardist and multi-instrumentalist Andy Fletcher have been together since the beginning, releasing their debut album “Speak and Spell” in 1981. And that tightness showed throughout their generous 2 1/4 hour concert.
The band is touring as part of their “Global Spirit Tour,” named in support of “Spirit,”their 14th studio album which was released back in February. It’s a fine album with at least a handful of songs well deserving of heavy airplay.
The one-time synth, new wave, alternative rock band was just announced last week as a 2018 nominee for induction into the Rick & Roll Hall of Fame. But unfortunately on this night, in spite of their high quality performance, the band didn’t appear to be overly concerned with their unbalanced setlist swaying any of their potential voters in an affirmative direction.
Opening with “Going Backwards” and “So Much Love” from the new album, the band appeared in front of a colorful multi-colored backdrop at the start of the show. Gahan, 55, often appeared to mimic the moves of a poor man’s Freddie Mercury as he pranced across the stage when not posturing with his head tilted back and arms outstretched wide.
A finely produced video accompanying “In Your Room” saw a nattily dressed couple gesticulating around a fashionably designed studio. “Cover Me,” the newly released single, saw Gahan venture out into the crowd on a thrust that extended from the left side of the stage.
Taking center stage for the first time, Martin Gore delivered a soulful rendition of “A Question of Lust” which was likely the first truly recognizable song for many in the crowd. Later, “Where’s The Revolution” revealed itself as another anthemic song from the new album.
By the time “Everything Counts” from 1983’s “Construction Time Again” was performed near the end of the bands regular set, there didn’t appear to be many in the crowd that weren’t happily standing if not singing along. As the songs lyrics mention, “It’s A Competitive World….” The 17th cut of the evening, “Never Let Me Down Again” was another sing-a-long that ended the set in an upbeat manner as the band briefly departed the stage.
Returning for an extended encore, the band missed an opportunity to close on a high note with a string of it’s unplayed hits by instead producing an uneven five song set. While a fine drum-driven cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes” along with the finale of “Personal Jesus” gave Gahan a couple final opportunities to demonstrate his flair as a frontman, the one significant complaint, and it’s a valid one, would continue to be the omission of a number of the band’s core cuts.
Songs such as “Just Can’t Get Enough,” “People Are People,” “Master and Servant” and “Blasphemous Rumours” were left out of the setlist in favor of many lesser known songs. This seems to continue a pattern that DM has established while touring in recent years, so it really comes as no surprise to those following them closely.
Every band that’s been around as long as Depeche faces the dilemma of replaying age old tunes that they’ve played repeatedly, but for those in attendance that haven’t seen the band previously, or for an extended period, the lack of so many of the songs that the group built their fame around was unfortunate. It’s also an understandable dilemma for a band that continues to evolve and produce quality material so far into their career.
The band’s visit to the Bay Area continues with a performance at Oracle Arena in Oakland tomorrow night before heading south for four shows at the Hollywood Bowl. Tickets for the Oakland show are available at http://www.ticketmaster.com/Depeche-Mode-tickets/artist/734907 .