Live review: Depeche Mode @ Red Rocks Amphitheatre - Reverb - Reverb

Live review: Depeche Mode @ Red Rocks Amphitheatre

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Depeche Mode singer David Gahan got his voice back in time for his band’s show at Red Rocks Amphitheatre last week, but that wasn’t enough to save the show. Photos by Mark Osler.

Depeche Mode played two sides of the coin at its Red Rocks show last week. On one side, the seminal British synth-pop band relied too heavily on nostalgia, putting forth a mediocre performance of a sub-par set list that tried (and missed) to recreate what made the band special in the first place. On the other side, the band rocked a set that paid little attention to its immense catalog from the ’80s, focusing instead on the darker music that has defined its songs since the release of 1990’s “Violator.”

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Both are true. The show was heavy on nostalgia and light on substance — and most of the nostalgia was of the slightly more recent variety. But the lasting impression of the band’s Colorado show was fleeting and impermeable. What could have been a veteran band making a statement, a declaration of vitality and relevance, instead waffled into an unmemorable singalong.

Did I sing along with Gahan and Martin Gore as they worked their way through the set? Sure, I did. But that didn’t make their Red Rocks show a quality concert.

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We’ll start with the setlist. Sure, they’re going to throw four or five songs in from the lackluster, new outing “Sounds of the Universe.” And while “Wrong” is an O.K. addition to the band’s catalog, the others — “In Chains,” “Hole to Feed,” “Jezebel” and others played — are little more than filler.

The oldies were solid. “Fly on the Windscreen” sounded thick but lacked the sneer of the original. “Somebody,” opening the first encore with only Gore and a mate on keys, was quite pretty and solemn. “Never Let Me Down Again” was the night’s highlight, a driving collaboration that had the band connecting on all fronts.

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“Songs of Faith of Devotion” was a great record in ’93, but it’s hardly worth three songs in concert in 2009. “Walking in My Shoes,” “In Your Room” and “I Feel You” sounded excessive and odd, especially since the band wasted two more slots with songs (“Home” and “It’s No Good”) from ’97’s disappointing “Ultra.”

Yes, this is a lot of time to spend dissing a band’s setlist. But it was warranted. Keep one of the “Faith and Devotion” songs, and that leaves four open slots for something else — a new approach to anything off “Some Great Reward” or an old, by-the-numbers take on something from “Music For the Masses.” It would be easy to give the band props for sticking (mostly) to their latest work if their latest work warranted celebration, but it doesn’t.

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The evening’s other major misstep: The embarrassing graphics that accompanied each song on the mammoth screen hung behind the band. The graphics (of babies and old men, of trees and ravens) were amateurish, ridiculous, superfluous and unnecessary. The stylized/distorted live feed — close-ups of Gahan and Gore — were much more tolerable than the elementary, nonsensical graphic design that too-often plagued the screen. And while that may seem like a small part of a concert’s experience, the design cheapened everything from the music to the performance.

That said, it wasn’t a terrible show. Depeche Mode has never been a legendary live band, but still, they didn’t live up to their already-limited potential. And for songwriters of their experience and caliber, that’s just wrong.

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Ricardo Baca is the founder and co-editor of Reverb and an award-winning critic and journalist at The Denver Post. He is also the executive director of the Underground Music Showcase, Colorado’s premier festival of local music. Follow his whimsies at Twitter, his live music habit at Gigbot and his iTunes addictions at

Mark Osler is a Pulitzer Prize-winning Denver photographer and regular contributor to Reverb. See more of his work here.


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  • Sean Kennedy

    The more things change, the more they stay the same. I saw David Gahan and Martin Gore perform at a sold out Red Rocks show in the early 80's. They had the crowd on their feet when they walked out on stage; half the audience had left by the time the show was over. Never a great live band, their heavy synthesizer and studio production techniques have always been critical in creating their distinct sound. I think they were touring for their second album, “A Broken Frame”; they didn't seem all that enthused to be there. Gahan's voice continually cracked through the higher registers and the show never seemed to get off the ground. I would go to Red Rocks for almost anything; it's such an incredibly gorgeous amphitheatre. I don't think I want to see another Depeche Mode concert there or anywhere else after reading your review, twenty-seven years later they are still much better when heard on CD from a good sound system.

  • Michael

    Mr. Baca,I highly disagree with your review of the Depeche Mode show at Red Rocks. As someone that has been a fan of the band since the mid 80’s, I feel that their music not only proves that they are one of the best bands around, but that their live show is what has set them apart from their peers. Their longevity is no coincidence! For you to call their performance at Red Rocks mediocre is absolutely ludicrous. The show at Red Rocks marked the fifth time that I have seen them live and at each and every one of these shows the set list has been different. Depeche Mode is not a band to rest on their laurels, they continue to produce music that is different from the last album, and choose not to have a greatest hits playlist for every tour. For David Gahan to give the kind of energy that he does during their live shows is amazing, especially for this tour given the fact that he had surgery to remove a malignant bladder tumor in May, tore a calf muscle in late July, and strain on his vocal chords weeks leading up to this show, which led to several shows being canceled. He is a true showman, and one of the best voices, not only in alternative rock, but rock in general. It sounds to me that you are a little bitter over something. Maybe, you weren’t granted an interview with the band, but the vitriol that you spewed in that review is unwarranted.

  • Name

    This response to the review is right on the money. As a long time fan of the band, this was one of the greatest shows I'd seen in a long time. I don't know if you just got a seat in the way back of the crowd or maybe you don't like the band in the first place (Ultra, for example, is an amazing album of great sounds and wonder. Nothing to be called “disappointing”), but the show was nearly flawless. It was a real treat.

  • Sheri

    I was stunned to see this review. I'm not sure we attended the same concert. I've seen Depeche Mode live five times and I considered this show to be one of their best. Dave and Martin seemed more connected this time and the energy and drive were terrific. Personally, I enjoyed the set list too, and the drummer was great. To be a true fan of Depeche Mode is akin to joining a religion. This is a band that truly speaks to those who love them, and last Thursday night, they spoke to me.

  • Name

    I swear the critics never give DM the credit they deserve. Their set-list was great. I've been a fan for about 25-years and took my son to his first concert, last Thursday. DM always put on a great show. I agree with Michael…Dave's voice was flawless, especially since he did have the vocal problems a few shows back. With all the issues Dave has had, I think it's admirable that they have continued their tour. I think most groups would have bagged the whole thing. Every person I have spoken to, that was at the concert, have given huge kudos. I'd take their opinion over any critic that isn't a true fan.

  • Lori

    Well said Michael. I agree, if Depeche Mode had a setlist of greatest hits every tour, people would then complain they were a band with nothing left to offer. The show was solid, entertaining, and most importantly, DM sounded as great as they did 23 yrs ago, when I saw them.

  • Keegan P

    Well, criticism of the selection of the setlist is of a nature of personal taste. I actually was ecstatic and amazed they chose so many songs from “Songs of Faith and Devotion,” one of my favourite albums. I'm glad they chose so many songs from around this period. A friend thought they might play “People are People,” and I thought one of the last songs might be “Just Can't Get Enough,” but I think those songs would have sounded far too poppy and odd. I was pretty happy with the setlist, The highlight of the night was NOT “Never Let Me Down Again,” but “Personal Jesus,” judging by the energy in the crowd. “Somebody” was excellent, and was the song I had wanted to hear that night. “Fly on the Windscreen” was inspirational. “Policy of Truth” was another high note. Meh, it's all about personal taste and preference. I have to agree with the graphics criticism. The graphics that played during the recent album songs were terrible and distracting, it's true. But the graphics were good for the rest of the concert, so I'd disagree. But it's interesting to think about what it may have been like without all the glitz. Hard to imagine. So perhaps you're right about it being distracting and a detriment to the concert. To go back tot he crowd, I thought there were pluses and minuses in regards to the type of crowd that was there. I was pleasantly surprised and liked the crowd, because I expected to feel out of place. It was a fairly mature crowd, which was nice in that they were well-behaved. However, I think that also translated into less energy–certainly not enough to match Gahan, who was dancing it up like a demon. I think there were plenty of people singing along and jiving, but we never got any real roars form the crowd. I was rather embarrassed by the lack of effort put forth to get encores. The band must have enjoyed playing there to give us so many for such a pathetic effort by the crowd.

  • nameoftherose

    I am not sure if you get some satisfaction from knocking one of the best alternative bands in the history of music or you were forced to attend a show where you dislike the band, or maybe your significant other dumped you that evening. Either way, maybe you should have passed on the ticket to someone who likes Depeche Mode. It is obvious that you have no clue what the band is about, their progression or their reputation as they happen to be one of the best live bands ever. Your attack on the setlist is very subjective, a band like DM needs about 5 hours of play to satisfy the wishes of their fans, so not sure why you seem intent on knocking it down. SOFAD songs will always be among the fans favorites, so get over it. The graphics distracting? well don't look, just listen then, because many of us happen to love the thoughtful graphics, but since you don't undetrstand the band, or hardly know the meanings of the lyrics, you are not qualified to judge. You're better off reviewing the Jonas Brothers, Neil Young, U2 and Keith Urban, bands that fit right in the dimensions of your tiny brain. Next time, just pass on the ticket to someone who knows what they're experiencing. You are really a TOOL.

  • DoMinichek

    “’97’s disappointing “Ultra.” – Ricardo is trying to be controversial. “the elementary, nonsensical graphic design that too-often plagued the screen.” – Ricardo is trying to be controversial 2. Poor.

  • skiekitty

    This was my first concert ever and I've been a true fan of DM since '91 (when I first heard them, it was love at first sound). I don't think that this “writer/blogger” actually attended the concert. How could Mr. Baca not feel the vibes from Personal Jesus? Or even when everyone was singing the chorus from Enjoy the Silence? Heck, Dave didn't have to sing, we did it all for him! For a band to have lasted this long w/o any glamorous photos in a ragmag in the past 10 years AND sell out all over the nation AND to survive all the nonsense that they went through in the 90s (yes, we're all looking at you Dave), and to come out not only on top with some cool-kicking new music that's not the same sound rehashed over and over and over; plus to be truly HUMBLE about it. That's what got me, was the fact that Dave felt truly humble to be performing for all of us “yanks” here in Colorado. Martin's just this side of an Angel for his true humility and Andy's always been one to take the background, but for Dave to not be an upstart snobbish bore, that's what got to me. I loved all of the albums from DM from Speak & Spell all the way to Violator, but when SOFAD came out, I felt that they were turning into something that I didn't want to listen to any more. However, to my ears, they redeemed themselves with Ultra & beyond.For anyone says that they're mediocre, try listening to Jonas Brothers or Miley Cyrus (or however you spell her name). Listen to Britney Spears, or Kayne West. They're fake and have no staying power. Do you *really* think that people are going to be showing off their original CDs of any of these “stars” today? No. However, a TRUE fan still has their 12″ single of People are People and STILL love this band today, no matter how many twists & turns they throw at us. And, any major singer who will basically stop a concert to comment on a little green thing (frog? bug?) that was on the stage and was making sure that no one squished it gets VERY high marks in my Kudo list.

  • John Wenzel

    Ricardo was being charitable in his description of the stage graphics. I was there, and they looked like embarassingly dated music videos, or unironic sketches from “Tim and Eric Awesome Show.” I mean, look at the opening song graphics (old man, little kid, woman in red circle jogging for no reason). It's like a Benneton ad as conceived by a 14-year-old for his school art project.

  • Name

    “a Benneton ad as conceived by a 10-year-old for his school art project”. This is some interpretation, and a first for that particular song, but then the ignorant human brain is very imaginative, good thing that you seem to have missed out on the meaning. You must have the brain of a 10 year old :)

  • John Wenzel

    I'm not saying the sentiment was lame, just the presentation. The band should have stuck to putting their own stylized images on the big screen.

  • Name

    Mr Wenzel!… Ever heard of Mr Anton Corbijn?… Know the word art, stile and overall picture?Maybe this was never anything for you? At the loocks of your blogg pics… NO!….Lets give you and other “americans” of “classical style thinking” a hint!…. Go to “peace sunday” or a trashy bar where they will threat you to light effects of 4 or 5 magical purpel greatnes…Thats more “you”!!Lets sum it up like this…. Dont comment things you dont understand!…And to Mr Barca, its not your personal oppinion you are to present.Its the proffesional one!… The one you should have learnt at University…. Or???You know, its like wearing a suit at a hard rock concert and complain abt the dresscode!…..Regards from Europe!!

  • Jenny C.

    Ha! That last comment is priceless… Apparently Reverb has angered the English-as-a-second-language/Eurotrash contingent! Watch your backs, Misters Baca and Wenzel. You've got some sad fat goths in ill-fitting shiny leather pants on your case!

  • Alex

    Never great live band? Huh? Who's the great in your list then? DM got like zillion awards for being the best live performer including MTV, VH1, Rolling Stones. As stats shows, they're just a bit behind U2 and Metallica in average tickets sold… and this's been lingering for almost 30 years! Real mediocrity is what Mr. Ricardo demonstrated in his blog. He probably listened and liked some earlier DM stuff from 80's and still thinks DM is popsynth band… Hello! This is 21st century already and DM left popsynth back in 1985.By the way, nobody could leave concert Red Rocks in early 80's just because they never been there at that time.As for original article and setlist, it's been mostly composed from Violator and Songs of Faith and Devotion which are most acclaimed by real critics. No wonder why mainstream media is dying… just because they don't have competent journalist anymore.

  • Amy

    wow did you even go to this show?? It just sounds like one big moan that they didn't play the songs YOU wanted. I went and enjoyed every moment of this spectacular evening. Your just a whinny arrogant brat

  • Leonard Z.

    Oh man, these comments are priceless… I think Depeche Mode fans are the giant bunch of whiny babies here. Why is this negative review pissing all you guys off so much? Methinks you internalize too much. Chill the fork out.

  • Leonard Z.

    Oh man, these comments are priceless… I think Depeche Mode fans are the giant bunch of whiny babies here. Why is this negative review pissing all you guys off so much? Methinks you internalize too much. Chill the fork out.

  • Amy

    wow did you even go to this show?? It just sounds like one big moan that they didn't play the songs YOU wanted. I went and enjoyed every moment of this spectacular evening. Your just a whinny arrogant brat

  • Leonard Z.

    Oh man, these comments are priceless… I think Depeche Mode fans are the giant bunch of whiny babies here. Why is this negative review pissing all you guys off so much? Methinks you internalize too much. Chill the fork out.