Depeche Mode Lit Up the Dark in Edmonton

Rogers Place, November 21

With Young Fathers

Photo: Em Medland-Marchen

BY Em Medland-MarchenPublished Nov 22, 2023

Forty three years since their inception, Depeche Mode still have plenty of life left. The English new wave band — now a duo consisting of surviving members Dave Gahan and Martin Gore following the death of Andrew Fletcher in 2022 — filled Edmonton's Rogers Place stadium last night. It was Alberta's lone stop on the Canadian leg of the band's global Memento Mori tour, celebrating the release of their latest entry in a long and decorated discography. 

Exploring the past, present and imagined future of goth-lite New Wave was a highlight of the evening, solidified by the riveting Young Fathers as openers. The Scottish three piece kicked things off with 2018's "Wow," punctuated with disparate synths and blood curdling cries. Despite the dimly lit stage, vocalist Kayus Bankole shone with a captivating on-stage presence that carried throughout the set. The driving drums and distorted vocals of 2023's "I Saw" capture imagined futures where equity-deserving voices rally against adversity in acts of defiance and resilience. 

While their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2020 nodded to their intricately complex canon, it's Gahan and Gore's live performance that solidifies their position among the rock legends of yore. Of Yore, but not forgotten. That truth was apparent on Friday night, as Gahan took the stage in a glimmering black suit jacket to the adoration of thousands of screaming fans. Watching the performance, you couldn't help but admire Gahan's electrifying stage presence, a feast for the eyes that he seemed to revel in. Complemented by guitarist, keyboardist and vocalist Gore — the grounded foil to Gahan's larger-than-life eccentricities — their opposing energy brought balance to the two hour set packed with hits old and new.

Depeche Mode have always been tough to pin down sonically — their music, ever-evolving and as transformative as their revolving door of coming-and-going band members, falls in the somewhat murky category of "alt rock." Synth driven bangers like 1981's "Just Can't Get Enough" are a stark contrast to the overwhelmingly goth/gospel hybridity of 1993's "Walking In My Shoes" and "Condemnation," while singles like "Ghosts Again" from this year's Memento Mori are shockingly contemporary. Still, a thematic thread runs through the band's eclectic discography that pulls things together under the unified tapestry that is Depeche Mode. Exploring death, life and rebirth, it is the band's reflective contemplation of darker themes that make them most beloved among rock music's New Wave landscape.

In many ways, Depeche Mode's spectacular set — complete with colourful 3D visuals, bloody black and red lighting setups and plenty of spinning skulls — capitalised on the aesthetics of the macabre. Gahan himself is somewhat famously and confusingly vampiric: his many brushes with death, and the story of how his heart stopped for a full two minutes in 1996 before he was revived, add to this legend. Nicknamed "The Cat" by local LA paramedics, it's not entirely clear which of Gahan's nine lives he is currently living, or how many he has left. Rather than baulk at this mortal reality, it's one he and Gore seem to actively embrace and ponder on Memento Mori

A large, blocky 'M' lit up the screens behind the band, typography that would remain throughout the evening as dynamic visuals that referenced the band's video discography filled and overflowed the letter. The pair were quiet throughout the set, choosing to give their full attention to the music rather than engaging the crowd in tedious banter. The gothic, industrial notes of "My Cosmos Is Mine" stilled the noise of the crowd, setting the stage for Gahan's commanding baritone to echo throughout the venue. His voice, weathered by decades of use, still maintained its integrity and remained a defining feature that drove the set.

Much has been written about Gahan's distinct stage presence, a talent that he has shared was influenced by the likes of David Bowie and Prince. It's hard not to draw the Bowie comparison, especially with Gahan's slicked-back silver hair, bedazzled black suit and eye glitter. As he pirouetted about the stage in elegant, ballet-inspired movements and used the mic stand as his own personal prop, he looked every bit the gothic alter-ego to Bowie's Thin White Duke. Videos of Gahan's stage performances have recently made their way to TikTok, where new generations are connecting with the delightfully fabulous gyrations of Gahan's on-stage seduction.

Side by side comparisons to '80s-era Gahan performing "Never Let Me Down Again" in a crop top and black leather slacks give the track a contemporary feel that resonates with the next generation of LGBTQIA+ youths. There isn't anything explicitly queer about Depeche Mode, not on the surface anyway. But it's difficult not to see a live performance of a song like "Never Let Me Down Again" replete with drag-inspired runway walks, crotch grabs and deep squats and not applaud how delightfully gay the whole thing really is. That appeal is part of what made Depeche Mode always feel contemporary, and how Gahan's performance style paved the way for generations of misfits to live their authentic truths with passion, courage and strength.

Gahan and Gore's vocal and musical dynamic is truly inspiring, carrying them afloat in deep cuts of their discography including "In Your Room" and "Stripped." In a highlight of the night, Gore showcased his dynamic range and enduring strength as a vocalist in a spotlit acoustic solo of "Strangelove," much to the crowd's delight. At the conclusion of the set, the stadium lit up with stars as the dutiful crowd shone their phone flashlights and demanded an encore. A full five minutes later, the band returned to the stage to serve up smash hit after smash hit: Gahan spun about on stage with arms outstretched as the plunky synths of "Just Can't Get Enough" made everyone dance, and fan favourite "Personal Jesus" issued plenty of singalongs.

It was an impressive showing for Depeche Mode fans old and new, serving a collection of hit favourites alongside the enduring relevance of their newer releases. In Edmonton, and worldwide, the power of Depeche Mode endures. 

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