Simply put, Brit synth-pop-turned-electronic rock gods Depeche Mode were quite brilliant Tuesday night at Phoenix’s Ak-Chin Pavilion, the latest and second-to-last show of the U.S. leg of their Delta Machine World Tour.
Anticipation was high, as singer Dave Gahan dramatically twirled his way onto the dark-lit stage, greeting the audience in song with Delta Machine’s opening track, “Welcome to My World.”
“Welcome to my world, step right through the door … And if you stay a while I’ll penetrate your soul,” he sang.
During a nearly two-hour set, Gahan, guitarist-keyboardist Martin Gore, keyboardist Andy Fletcher and touring members Peter Gordeno (keyboards) and Christian Eigner (drums) did just that, riveting the crowd with their brooding songs and yet playful rockstar charisma.
After delivering another Delta Machine number in “Angel,” the band served up a handful of gems from their vast back catalog with “Walking in My Shoes” off 1993’s Songs of Faith and Devotion, “Precious” (2005’s Playing the Angel) and the title track of 1986’s Black Celebration. Red laser beams flashed across the stage during the dark and mesmerizing take on “Black Celebration,” highlighted by Gahan’s distinctive baritone.
Dressed in tight black jeans and an unfastened glittery vest, Gahan sashayed, strutted, twirled and delivered endless provocative hip thrusts to rival John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. When he wasn’t grinding with his mic stand, he was whirling it in the air and spinning dizzying pirouettes, earning even more adulation during dance hit “Policy of Truth” off 1990’s Violator.
Meanwhile, Fletcher was cool incarnate behind the keys, sporting dark sunglasses and accenting the lyrics with demonstrative hand gestures.
Even the subdued Gore showcased his playful side, as he tap shuffled across the stage to the drum beat during “Enjoy the Silence” and often rocked out with an envious collection of guitars.
But Gore was at his best midway through the set when he took over the mic, his earnest vocals accompanied only by Gordeno on the keys for Delta Machine’s “The Child Inside” and “But Not Tonight.” Though hugely popular with fans, the B-side, which appeared on Black Celebration, has never been a band favorite and had never been sung live until just this past April.
They followed up the powerful Gore ballads with Delta Machine’s dark lead single “Heaven,” and then gave a gut-wrenching performance of the bass-driven “Pain That I’m Used To.”
“Enjoy the Silence” struck a visceral chord when the giant video screen showed three scantily-clad female contortionists squashed against a glass wall. As frenetic and upbeat as the number is, the image vividly illustrated the song’s despairing lyrics:
Vows are spoken to be broken
Feelings are intense, words are trivial
Pleasures remain, so does their pain.
Next up, Eigner rubbed together his drumsticks to create eerie, cricket-like textures. Gore then kicked in swampy guitar licks to give “Personal Jesus” a bluesy, grittier feel. Gahan’s strip-tease antics added to the steamy, slow-burning set closer, and when he shrugged off his vest and spun it in the air, he had the audience members screaming to be on the receiving end.
Gore again took center stage to kick off the encore with “Shake the Disease,” punctuated by beating piano notes and rapid hand claps from the crowd, and then sung “Condemnation” with absolute conviction.
Even Gahan appeared moved by the performance, as he headed straight to Gore and enveloped him in a huge hug.
“And now, for something different,” Gahan noted, as the band kicked into the highly energetic, bubbly even, “Just Can’t Get Enough.”
Written by former founding member Vince Clarke, the riff-driven synth-pop track hasn’t typically been featured in their live show. And while it’s been massively popular during this latest jaunt, Depeche Mode finished the night with their longtime signature closer in “Never Let Me Down Again,” complete with the tradition of the audience mimicking Gahan’s arm waves.
“Welcome to my world, step right through the door … And if you stay a while I’ll penetrate your soul.”
Despite a stellar 19-song setlist, that door closed a little too soon for those in attendance.
Welcome to My World
Walking in My Shoes
Policy of Truth
Barrel of a Gun
The Child Inside
But Not Tonight
Pain That I’m Used To
Question of Time
Enjoy the Silence
Shake the Disease
Just Can’t Get Enough
Never Let Me Down