The last time Depeche Mode played Los Angeles, they did something no band had ever done before (or has done since): a sold-out, four-night run at the Hollywood Bowl. Six years, one pandemic, one long-overdue Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction, and one devastating loss later, the British synthpop pioneers bittersweetly returned this week to L.A. a very different band — a duo by default, sans co-founder Andy “Fletch” Fletcher, who died suddenly last May after suffering an aortic dissection at age 60.
L.A. has always been Depeche Mode’s biggest U.S. market, thanks to the early and unwavering support of alternative rock station KROQ. It’s the city where the band’s autograph signing at Wherehouse Records famously caused a riot and made national news when an unexpected 20,000 fans showed up. It’s the city where they made history at another Bowl, Pasadena’s 90,000-capacity Rose Bowl stadium, when their final Music for the Masses tour date was captured by D.A. Pennebaker for the landmark 1989 concert film 101. It’s the city where even a recent screening of 101 at the actual Rose Bowl can draw the masses. And Tuesday, as the Mode-loving masses welcomed back surviving core members Dave Gahan and Martin Gore at another famous L.A. venue, the Forum, it was an emotional evening that felt like both a triumphant return and a fond farewell.
Gahan and Gore, joined onstage by longtime multi-instrumentalist Peter Gordeno and drummer Christian Eigner, were promoting their mortality-focused 15th studio album, Memento Mori — the title is Latin for “remember, you will die” — which they started writing before Fletcher’s death and began recording only six weeks after he passed away. (Gahan explained in a recent Live Nation interview that he and Gore “decided to continue, as we’re sure this is what [Fletch] would have wanted, and that has really given the project an extra level of meaning.”) Setting the tone for their sold-out Forum gig, Depeche Mode fittingly, if riskily, opened with Memento Mori’s elegiac and dirge-like first track, “My Cosmos Is Mine,” followed immediately by that album’s equally atmospheric and somber “Wagging Tongue.”
While the band’s only overt acknowledgment of “our friend, Mr. Andrew Fletcher” was during 1990’s “World in My Eyes” — which they played in front of a slow-dissolve vintage video of Fletch cupping one hand over his eye — Fletch’s presence, or absence, was deeply felt throughout the night. (Fletcher’s last public appearance as a member of Depeche Mode was in November 2020, when the band was inducted into the Rock Hall by longtime superfan Charlize Theron — although, sadly, that ceremony that was held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Depeche Mode did not get the chance to perform or celebrate together.)
Frontman Gahan, at age 60, was in his usual fine post-punk-Elvis form Tuesday, still a dancefloor dynamo from his slicked pompadour to his white wingtips. But Depeche’s 23-song setlist didn’t feature many upbeat, dancey hits. Instead, the band understandably leaned into its moodier midtempo catalog — including a nice deep cut especially for the L.A. diehards, an acoustic version of Songs of Faith and Devotion’s “Condemnation,” which the band had not played since 2013 and Gahan had not sung live since 2001.
While Depeche Mode have made no official announcement that this will be their last album or tour — at an October 2022 press conference, Gahan said he and Gore decided, “Let’s at least make this record” — an Uncut review did describe Memento Mori as the sound of a “band entering a final act.” And there was indeed a sense of finality to Tuesday’s Forum show. When Depeche wrapped their four-song encore with “Personal Jesus,” the audience lingered after the band left the stage — perhaps hoping for “People Are People,” “Master and Servant,” “Blasphemous Rumours,” “Somebody,” “Shake the Disease,” “Strangelove,” or literally at least a dozen other KROQ hits — before the houselights finally flickered on.
“L.A. has been there for us from day one, really,” Gahan gratefully told the L.A. Weekly at the time of Depeche Mode’s record-setting Hollywood Bowl run back in 2017. And L.A. will be there for them again in December 2023 — when, by popular demand, Gahan and Gore return to play a whopping four more Los Angeles shows. What happens after that is uncertain, but L.A. will clearly be there for Depeche Mode until the band’s final day.
Depeche Mode’s March 28 Forum setlist was:
My Cosmos Is Mine
Walking in My Shoes
It’s No Good
Sister of Night
In Your Room
Speak to Me
A Question of Lust
Soul With Me
I Feel You
A Pain That I’m Used To
World in My Eyes
John the Revelator
Enjoy the Silence
Just Can’t Get Enough
Never Let Me Down Again
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