This review has been provided by Kristin Pinnatore from Fremont, California and in it Kristin gives us the full lowdown on what it's like to see Depeche Mode from as close to the front of the crowd as it's possible to be. I love the effort Kristin went to to get that spot and it's so cool to read about fellow Devotees helping make sure she got what she wanted. Read on and enjoy. All photos are Kristin's unless otherwise stated (i.e. stolen with much thanks from Depeche Mode Classic Photos & Videos Facebook Group)
It’s not every day that we get a chance to cross something off our bucket lists. To be fair, my personal bucket list isn’t even that long - I prefer not to dwell on my own mortality. But if I did maintain a serious bucket list, seeing Depeche Mode from the front row would be at the top of it. Front row center, if I’m being honest (or greedy). The problem is that there’s been virtually no general admission at North American venues for the last several tours, and certainly none near me. Prices for such coveted seats are sold at a ridiculous price in the states, too, and I’m a school teacher with a family. It’s been a dream for a long time, but only that. Dream on.
By pure luck, last spring I had the chance to buy a general admission spot at the legendary Santa Barbara Bowl. And slowly, a plan comes together. With the support of my husband (who isn’t even a huge music fan, let alone a devotee like myself), we plan a 5-hour car trip down the California coast, bringing supplies so I can camp out at the venue the night before the show, hopefully securing the front-of-the-line spot.
I arrive at the venue at 9 PM the night before the show, stay in the car for an hour and then set up a lawn chair and blankets at the gate. First in line (for rather a long while, I’m afraid). But I’m good at entertaining myself and between a strong internet connection (hurray for Netflix!) and some snacks, I make it until about 2:30 AM before drifting into a light sleep.
When the semis come through the predawn Santa Barbara neighborhood at 5 AM, it’s like the circus has come to town. Ten enormous unmarked long haul trucks and three RV’s maneuver their way through the parking lot as I watch. More fans start to trickle in at about 6 AM as well. We start a numbering system to keep track of the line, because frankly the venue has no idea how they want us to line up. I find out that there is an “early admission general admission” ticket that I do not have, and that anyone with the early admission is getting first crack at the rail. So much for my extreme efforts to be first in line. I miss the olden days, without all the levels of tickets. But despite my disappointment, I’m determined to enjoy being as close as possible to the action.
The people I meet in line are seriously some of the nicest people I’ve ever come into contact with at a live show; in my mind they are “The 6 AM Crew”. Most have been to multiple shows on this tour already and are old hands at getting the best spot possible. I know I’m outclassed in every way here and am resigned to having some heads in my way. Hopefully their owners won’t be tall. It’s not until I get back online at home that I realize how many of these folks I already “know” from the fan sites, reviews, and forums on which I lurk!
The line continues to be a struggle for the venue when there is confusion about the “early admission” and “regular admission” to this so-called “general” admission. It gets sorted, but not until after 5 PM. The early admission folks (maybe 30 people?) are registered, patted down and allowed up The Hill to the stage area.
I’ve heard horror stories about The Hill at the Santa Barbara Bowl. But nothing could have prepared me for it. After I’m finally let through security and begin my climb, I quickly understand why I’ve been told so often about it. You have the choice of either a LOT of stairs, or a STEEP walk up. Either way, I’m in no shape for it, less so because I’m short on sleep. People are passing me and I see any front row hopes I might have entertained dissolving into a wheezing, heaving asthma attack.
By the time I make it to the merch and food area, I’m dizzy and gasping. And because we’re not through yet, there is another flight of stairs to get to the general admission floor. Somehow I make it, and when I turn the corner and see the stage, there are three different groups of people from the 6 AM Crew waving at me to say they’ve saved a spot on the rail for me!
Seriously, folks. DM people are amazing. I always knew that but now I’m seeing it first hand. I’m shaking with gratitude, excitement, and the adrenaline rush of practically killing myself on the hike. But I am front row center! I simply can’t believe it! I will never be able to say thank you enough!
Because of the hill, I’m still coughing when Warpaint takes the stage. I haven’t had a chance to check them out before and they are a welcome surprise, with an edge that feels appropriately matched to our general expectations of Depeche. The lead singer tells those of us in the pit that we’re very lucky because there haven’t been pits at the North American shows, and I know I feel incredibly fortunate. But there’s also a sense of solemnity in our luck. Less than 24 hours prior, a gunman struck down 58 concert goers in Las Vegas. Many of the folks I’m sharing these first rows with - people I’ve been chatting and comparing DM notes with for hours - have just come from Vegas, where DM played on Saturday night. Some stayed in the same hotel as the gunman. We’re all aware that the targeted victims were doing exactly what we’re doing now - enjoying live music with like-minded folks - and didn’t make it home.
Though this is sobering, we don’t have time to dwell right now, as the set change is quick and opens the floor up a great deal more. This is good, because without a catwalk (the Bowl is too small for one) I was a little worried about Dave’s ability to fully prowl around. Now there’s clearly more room for the whole band.
Suddenly the lights drop and the Beatles remind us that we wanted revolution ages ago and we’re still waiting. After a minute the Beatles fade out and the Spirit marching feet appear to the deeply primal beat of Cover Me (Alt Out). The bass is so intense when it arrives that it hits us smack in the throat with a physical punch, eliciting grunts from a number of us, as though we are already getting in touch with our caveman mentality.
|Picture courtesy of Depeche Mode Classic Photos & Videos Facebook Group|
Dave demands all eyes on him, anyway, because our master of ceremonies is taking the stage on his raised platform. After the first verse of Going Backwards he’s down and on the main stage, literally skipping with malevolent delight at just how much of a mess we’ve made for ourselves. His wrist flips and sassy flouncing announce his disdain for our backwards ways, and his sneers say volumes about exactly how much confidence he has in our ability to fix things. Media photographers are allowed in the front section of the pit for the first three songs, and Dave preens and poses for them, channeling Keith Richards and Elvis, with a smidge of Joel Grey thrown in for good measure.
When I first saw the setlist I couldn’t really appreciate the build up it creates, but I love it live. I didn’t really understand kicking off with Going Backwards, other than the fact that it’s the opening track on Spirit. On tour, though, it’s a dire warning and a plea that sets the tone for the evening.
So Much Love isn’t my favorite song off the new album, but it works well as a second live piece. With it’s frenetic pace, it takes the End of Days energy of Going Backwards and gives it a jittery, panicked edge. Dave doesn’t seem completely comfortable with all this love in him - or at least his concert persona doesn’t. He vamps and sneers through it all, almost daring us to believe he could bear to love us.
Dave has a little ballet for the intro to Barrel Of A Gun that he uses throughout the song. Big arm motions and wide steps add to the sense of nihilistic glee that he infuses this song with. He’s still mugging at the cameras and posing provocatively.
Next up is A Pain That I’m Used To, the Jaques LuCont remix. I have to say I’m a fan of this remix. I think it has a drive that the original lacks and the intro is great live. If there’s any song I think DM could drop, though, it’s this one, since they performed it on the Delta tour. It’s a great song and a great version, but it’s the one I’d love to see swapped out.
However, I am thrilled with the inclusion of Corrupt in the Spirit setlist. I love this song and think it’s highly underrated (same goes for In Sympathy and Scum. I make no apologies). It’s the perfect vehicle for Dave to go full-on sleaze mode, pointing to individual crowd members and telling them to their face that he wouldn’t touch them with even his little finger. The rock god persona is complete - now he’s rejecting the fans with “I could have you, but who would want you?” abuse and we eat it up. He’s laughing at us, and at the whole silly set-up. Dave knows the score and he’s letting us in on the joke.
In Your Room builds as it always does, whether you’re listening to it through headphones or live. It’s a no-fail recipe for getting the masses worked up, and the boys pull the marionette strings beautifully. World In My Eyes follows, so this is familiar territory for fans.
Next up, you can tell that Dave enjoys the space to really sing Cover Me, and he sounds great. The appearance of this one on the permanent setlist surprised me, but placed where it is, it’s the perfect transition from Dave to Martin.
|Picture courtesy of Depeche Mode Classic Photos & Videos Facebook Group|
Home successfully turns into a big singalong, the European-style kind I’ve read about, mainly because a few of the 6 AM Crew have set a mission to make it happen. I’ve never been in the tinderbox of a crowd sing along before and it’s euphoric. I’m “Ohhh-oh-oh-OOOOOOOHHHHH”ing along with the best of them and Dave appears to see what all the fuss is about. He takes his position as gothic band leader and conducts us supplicants in our tune. Big grins all around.
But Good Times Dave isn’t back for long. Next up is a vicious rendition of Poison Heart that drips with scorn. Yes, he’s sure of the poison in our hearts and minds, but it’s with all due respect, so it’s OK. He couldn’t be more done with us, and the crowd laps it up and begs for more.
The placement of Where’s The Revolution in the setlist confused me when I first saw it, too. It seemed awfully late in the show for the first single off a new album. The boys clearly know better than I do, because it arrives at the perfect moment. Up until now the selections have thematically explored power issues in all their myriad forms. Now it’s time to do something about it. Sadly, we’re letting DM down, people - where is that revolution?
Maybe it’s our own fault. Wrong is full of mockery, especially when the lights drop in the middle and Dave shows off his yoga skills by basically folding in half.
The classics return with a one-two punch of Everything Counts and Stripped. Hardcore and casual fans alike are singing along and it’s at the end of Stripped that I have my eye-lock moment with the rock god. It’s discomfiting when the man you’ve gazed at longingly since you were 13 looks back at you. As I told my husband, “When Dave Gahan looks in your eyes, they stay looked into.” In that moment, I’m back in high school. All I ever wanted, all I ever needed, indeed.
We’re in the thick of the hits now and Enjoy The Silence gets the giddy reception it deserves. Christian has his drum solo and even Martin boogies down during the bridge. Dave’s pacing the upper stage and giving a little stage time to the rest of the boys. Fletch, as always, is metaphorically eating a banana.
Never Let Me Down Again is the barn-burner it always is. It’s impossible from where I’m standing to take in the spectacle of the wheat wave arms that the climax of the song always brings, but I know it’s happening.
The two minutes or so between the band’s exit and their encore is fairly deafening. Then Martin appears and the word Somebody flashes on the screen. This is the song that really made me a devotee. I’d heard some of the band’s other tunes on the radio, but after 13 year old me danced with my crush to Somebody in the high school gym, I was forever in thrall to DM. Martin executes this rendition beautifully. Afterwards, Dave returns to point out his sparkly silver boots while daring us to go Walking In My Shoes.
I’ve been looking forward to “Heroes” since the first time I heard that it was being covered on this tour. More than any of the songs from the Spirit album, I think the “Heroes” cover will most embody this particular concert experience for me. Seeing my musical heroes in this place, in this way - because of the support of my family and new DM fan friends - well, this experience is proof positive that we can all be heroes, just for one day. Shout out again to the 6 AM Crew for making a girl’s dream come true!
At this point I’m exhausted but the boys from Basildon still pull out I Feel You and Personal Jesus - and not that version with the painfully slow intro from the Delta tour. No, there’s no dragging this one out - we dive right in and the energy that Dave displays proves that he continues to be a musical force of nature. He’s been going full steam for two hours and on this final song he stomps the stage, throwing his body around, and continuing to take up more room than you’d think his slight frame would.
|Picture courtesy of Depeche Mode Classic Photos & Videos Facebook Group|
Before I know it, they’re taking their bows and heading off into the night. The time has flown by and somehow it’s all over! After hugs and thanks and many “See you next times” to the 6 AM Crew , we surge back down the ridiculous hill, and scatter in all directions.
A few random observations: Christian’s live drumming is integrated really well in this setlist. I know DM’s having live drums was a difficulty for some fans, and I can understand the arguments. For me, the driving rhythms tied together the setlist and it’s clear from the interactions that Dave loves having real drums on stage.
I wasn’t in a good position to report on general sound quality at the Bowl, though I was told it sounded great all around the venue. Up close everything sounded quite good, without any serious proximity distortion.
Dave is clearly, as always, the man to watch. Martin is busy with his guitars and harmonizing, while Fletch is busy in the background being Fletch (I say this with all love to Fletch). Spirit Tour Dave is much more snarly than Delta Tour Dave was. His movements are bigger; he ape-walks the stage and stomps like a man caged. His physicality is truly something to see.
My tour with the boys continues nearer to home. I’ll be back to report on the Oakland show, so for now - thanks for reading, and we’ll see you next time!