a memento for houston
Depeche Mode leaves dramatic Memento at Toyota Center — and Houston just can't get enough
How do you move on with a vital piece missing?
That was the question that hung over the night’s proceedings as world-beating, 100 million album-selling, synth-pop, alt-rock legends Depeche Mode rolled into Toyota Center late Wednesday, October 4 night as part of their global Memento Mori tour. The answer came with considerable grace, dark grooves, infectious hooks, and a workmanship level of performance that only comes from being one of the best live acts on the planet for so long.
Quite fittingly following a dreary rainstorm, a swath of black-clad fans descended downtown as the U.K. act returned to Houston after an almost exactly five-year absence. For the lucky ones to snag tickets for the sold-out show way back in February, it was well worth the wait.
There’s a reason the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees have been going strong for over 40 years, touting album sales north of 100 million. Now into their 60s and down one member due to the tragic passing of founding keyboardist Andy Fletcher in 2022, would the two remaining members, lead singer Dave Gahan and keyboardist, guitarist, vocalist, and main songwriter, Martin Gore still have the same passion to excite and captivate?
Thankfully, aspersions were quickly cast aside: the magic of Depeche Mode lives on.
Those in attendance – including one regally dressed in crown and cape just like Gahan in the striking video for “Enjoy the Silence” – crossed generations, many with their children in tow. Following a killer set by the excellent New York City post-punk act DIIV, a grateful audience took in 23 songs over two hours, comprised of classic Depeche Mode material woven amongst newer cuts.
The four-piece, including long-time touring drummer, Christian Eigner, and multi-instrumentalist Peter Gordeno, eased their way into the show with two cuts, “My Cosmos Is Mine,” and “Wagging Tongue” from the moody 15th full-length offering, Memento Mori, released last year.
A massive letter “M” stood in front of a 50-foot video screen bringing tantalizing visuals with screens on either side of the stage catching the action.
The crowd perked up for the excellent 1993 Songs of Faith and Devotion opener,“Walking in My Shoes” and the driving Ultra single, “It’s No Good,” with Gahan immaculately dressed in a frilled white shirt, shiny black vest, black trousers and shoes that appeared to be worth the price of a mortgage payment. The years were noticeably catching up to the always captivating and handsome frontman, but his slinky, pirouette-like moves belied his age, and there was still nothing like his rich baritone voice that only gets better over time.
Other highlights during the set included a rousing version of the now-prescient 1983 anti-capitalist screed, “Everything Counts,” as well as an extra muscular “Precious,” the rarely played lead single from the underrated 2001 album, Exciter. The electric, arena-rock blast of “I Feel You,” still hits hard 30 years after it was released.
The most poignant moment came during the tribute to the late Fletcher during“World in My Eyes,” the album opener from the 1990 masterpiece, Violator. The much-loved bandmate’s image was projected prominently onto the screen, and the applause following the song served as a testament to how much he will be missed.
If there were any criticisms to be had, the band leaned a little too much towards newer, less recognizable material. That said, the songs they played, such as the souped-up dancefloor remix, “A Pain That I’m Used To” from 2005’s Playing the Angel, and the syncopated “Wrong” from 2009’s Sounds of the Universe deserved their place among the unassailable singles they’ve racked up over time.
Following the requisite, and still perfect, set closer, “Enjoy the Silence” from Violator, the four-song encore opened with a gorgeous, goosebump-inducing duet of “Waiting for the Night” from the same album. Front and center, Gahan and Gore’s voices perfectly complimented each other throughout the eerie, quieter track. They ended the song with a warm embrace.
Houston has a long history with Depeche Mode, who found a friendly fanbase here in the early ‘80s during their climb towards the mainstream, and that was recognized during the irresistible 1981 bubblegum-synth hit, “Just Can’t Get Enough.”
When Gahan led the packed venue in an exuberant call-and-response at the song's end, he couldn’t help but remark, “You were so much better than Dallas!” While it would usually play as requisite live-show banter, the moment felt earned.
The crowd was now fully on its feet for the one-two punch of fan favorites. “Never Let Me Down Again” from 1987’s Music for the Masses, and the alt-rock radio staple, “Personal Jesus” brought the house down and ended the night in ecstatic fashion.
Depeche Mode may be more mellow and mature from their hedonistic heights of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. But their back catalog of influential odes to the dark side of the psyche, and the undying adoration of their 35 million-strong fanbase ensured that there will forever be room for them in the musical landscape.
This was one black celebration none of us wanted to end.
“My Cosmos Is Mine”
“Walking in My Shoes”
“It’s No Good”
“Sister of Night”
“In Your Room” (Zephr Mix)
“Speak to Me”
“A Question of Lust”
“Soul With Me”
“I Feel You”
“A Pain That I'm Used To” (Jacques Lu Cont Remix)
“World in My Eyes” (Dedicated to Andrew Fletcher)
“John the Revelator”
“Enjoy the Silence”
“Waiting for the Night”
“Just Can't Get Enough”
“Never Let Me Down Again”