Back in the ‘80s, when Depeche Mode was just a group of skinny Brits stationed behind rinky-dink synthesizers, the group proved you didn’t need to play rock music to be rock stars. It makes you wonder what the band then would make of the band today.
At the Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre in Tinley Park, principal songwriter and sometime singer Martin Gore spent more time with a guitar slung across his chest than behind a keyboard. Hard-hitting tour drummer Christian Eigner overplayed like he was being paid by the fill. Andy Fletcher stayed stationed behind his own keyboard (the way things used to be), but tour keyboardist Peter Gordeno occasionally forayed out front to play bass. And singer Dave Gahan? Always an outgoing frontman, Gahan seems to have studied some of Mick Jagger’s campiest moves, his tattooed arms and fiendish pencil-thin mustache lending him a Mephistophelean edge.
This is how it’s been for several years now, but the effect felt particularly pronounced Wednesday night, as if the group was afraid to leave even a moment of space in its songs. Beginning with “Going Backwards” and continuing through songs such as “Barrel of a Gun” and “A Pain That I’m Used To,” Depeche Mode aimed for maximum impact, deviating occasionally from the studio arrangements but almost always in favor of more rather than less. Louder. Bigger. Busier. Admittedly, seas of dedicated fans demand a certain amplification, but the approach was at times exhausting, especially when it risked steamrolling the subtleties and nuance of songs like “World In My Eyes” and “Home,” or the already ironic sell-out anthem “Everything Counts.”
Not least because they were surrounded by so much bombast, older tracks like “Stripped,” the gorgeous new “Cover Me” and a gratuitous but lovely cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes” stood out for their spare simplicity, as did Gore’s solo vocal turns on “A Question of Lust” and “Somebody.” But turbo boosting already reliable anthems like “Never Let Me Down Again” and “Enjoy the Silence” felt somewhat unnecessary no matter how well Gahan sold them with his swagger. It was as if the group, having made its hard-earned way to the top of the heap, was still hustling to justify the huge crowds by abandoning some of the traits that once set it apart.
RELATED: War on Drugs go round and round in the fog on ‘A Deeper Understanding’ »
RELATED: Taylor Swift’s new song says old Taylor is ‘dead’ »
RELATED: Lady Gaga brings a rare intimacy to Wrigley Field »