Over the years, we've seen many metal musicians give props to, or cover, Depeche Mode. It was never a band I really took the time to explore until I kept seeing their name pop up in the mouths of musicians who I really enjoyed . So, when I needed a break from blast beats a few years ago, I took a deep dive into the catalogue of Depeche Mode, and it was one of the best decisions of my life. I have been a devoted fan of the band ever since, and I'm still waiting for a proper metal cover of "A Question of Time."
When Depeche Mode rolled into New York City for two sold out nights at Madison Square Garden, I wanted to see just how much metal is actually in a Depeche Mode set. To be clear, Depeche Mode has been called many things: dance, new wave, goth rock – but never metal. Depeche Mode are not a metal band, but they certainly share common elements – dark, atmospheric music, dark subject matter, aggressive drum beats and the occasional breakdown (albeit with synth). Oh my god, there is so much synthesizer, and it's glorious. After experiencing the band's music in a live setting, it was very clear why Rolling Stone called the band metal's secret influence.
The one thing that stuck out to me was the demographic, and how different it was from a metal show. I did spot some metal shirts in the crowd. There was a dude in an Opeth shirt, a dude in a Gojira shirt and a dude in a (new) Metallica shirt. Metalheads definitely appreciate Depeche Mode, but the majority of the crowd were women, and most of these women looked like soccer moms who don't go to shows often. But you know what? These soccer moms throw down. They are engaged, and there to party. During the climax to "Barrel of A Gun," one woman shouted "Break it down!" and was just feeling it. When the band broke into "Enjoy the Silence" it was as if Slayer had just played "Angel of Death." These women went nuts, dancing in the isles, to the point that a crotchety security guard had to come and dismantle the psuedo-mosh pit. The crowd was in the palm of the band's hand the entire set, doing extended sing-a-longs all night which seemed to even impress the band. I couldn't help but think some of these women were teens when the band broke big and said things like "goth is not a phase, mom!" Well, they sure proved it tonight. But they left most of their dark clothes at home.
The band themselves sounded tight and excellent. Frontman Dave Gahan pranced around the stage like a reincarnated Freddy Mercury of Queen at times, and at times sashaying like a drag queen down an extension of the stage that looked like a runway from New York Fashion Week. He had full command of the crowd from the moment the show started and kept the party going, even pulling out a t-shirt gun towards the end of the show.
The set was the perfect blend of new material and classics. They sprinkled most of the new material in the first half of the set and then spent the last hour playing hit after hit. They played for about two hours, and for exactly one hour and 50 minutes, Gahan was dancing all over over the stage. The band even played "Black Celebration," a rarity, and threw in a poignant cover of David Bowie's "Heroes" after Gahan dedicated the song to the heroes of 9/11 on the 16th anniversary of the event.
So is Depeche Mode metal? No, but can a metalhead appreciate Depeche Mode? Absolutely, and this metalhead had a great time and I look forward to seeing these guys command the stage once more.
Depeche Mode are out on the road supporting their new album, Spirit. Get dates here.