Depeche Mode at the Key Arena

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Dave Gahan performing with Depeche Mode

Depeche Mode is an act irreversibly associated with the electricity, exuberance and androgyny of the 1980s despite the fact that their classic best seller, Violator, did not arrive until March of 1990 (Wikipedia). In that album and its successor Songs of Faith and Devotion (lovingly referred to by fans as SOFAD and arguably deserving of equal acclaim), Depeche Mode abandoned the arbitrary purity sought after by many electronic bands in favor of (gasp) playing guitars!

Debuting most perceptibly in the song “Personal Jesus” (and arguably perfected in “I Feel You”), what songwriter Martin Gore calls “electronic blues” (Spin) is really the sound of a band embracing performance in service of song over style. Monday’s show at Seattle’s Key Arena had plenty of both for over ten thousand frantic attendees.

Martin Gore performing with Depeche Mode at the Key ArenaAccompanying the band in their set of twenty-one career-spanning selections (including rarely performed treats such as “Fly on the Windscreen”) were a set of striking visuals by Anton Corbijn. While lacking the jaw-dropping “ah” factor of Nine Inch Nails’ Lights in the Sky tour, Anton’s imagery continues to define a large amount of the band’s aesthetic as it has for over twenty years. It is to his credit that the backdrops often competed with the audio for the viewer’s attention.

Frontman Dave Gahan’s well-documented (and oft-mimicked) performance style delivered itself passionately and compellingly, but Martin Gore stole the show in terms of emotional impact and heartfelt performance even when standing in the sidelines. Whether behind a keyboard, guitar or microphone, it seems Gore is extremely adept at conjuring a genuine sense of yearning and honesty.

In Dave and Martin’s bare duet of “Waiting for the Night,” the last song of the evening, the band summarized why they’ve remained an ever-present force in the ears of millions of listeners far-removed from their native decade. It’s not about the synthesizers; it’s about the songs.

(Though it certainly doesn’t hurt if they’re danceable.)

Photos from Depeche Mode’s tour blog.