LIVE from Your Speakers: Depeche Mode, 101

Thursday, August 9, 2018
Depeche Mode, 101

The live album 101 is Depeche Mode at the height of their considerable power. Though 1990’s VIOLATOR was a great album and a bigger hit, 101 established the cultural impact of the band and looked back at the decade it took to make that impact, from the group’s debut, through their development, all the way to their most triumphant moment.

That moment was the 101st show of the tour supporting their album MUSIC FOR THE MASSES, a sold out concert June 18, 1988, at Pasadena, Calif.’s Rose Bowl in front of 60,000 devoted fans. In many ways, it was a coming together akin to a Grateful Dead show, a display of solidarity from a tribe, a community for whom Depeche Mode was not just a provider of a life’s soundtrack, they were a way of life — a touchstone that signaled you weren’t just a listener; you were a member.

The band were in fine form, and things got started in full with “Behind the Wheel.” The most resonant Depeche Mode songs are the ones with the low-end synths that sound like a pulse, and “Behind the Wheel” has that pulse, in spades. Singer Dave Gahan narrates the story of a man giving up control of himself — “Pull my strings / Watch me move / I do anything.” The crowd chimes in from the beginning; it’s obvious they will be active participants for the duration of the show.

They definitely respond to the deeply sensual currents of “Strangelove,” with its teasing S&M overtones (“Pain, will you return it?” “I give in to sin / Because I like to practice what I preach”). They also get six and a half minutes of Depeche Mode grinding through “Never Let Me Down Again” There’s something sleazy about a line like “Promises me I'm as safe as houses / As long as I remember who's wearing the trousers.” Is it the context of the song that makes it so? Is it Gahan’s vocal? The sinister-sounding synths in the verses? Regardless, the audience eats it up.

Conversely, there’s “Somebody,” Martin Gore’s vocal turn on the piano-based ballad. There’s a little bit of Vegas at end of second verse (pausing after “I want somebody / Who will put their arms around me / And kiss me …). Why not let the crowd scream a bit, if you have them in the palm of your hand? And why not end the show with “Everything Counts,” the band’s 1983 anti-record-industry screed? “Everything counts in large amounts” could also be a reference to the size of the audience at the Rose Bowl.

It was a great night; if you were there, 101 helps you relive the evening. If you weren’t, it’ll show you what you missed.

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