It’s 106 miles to Chicago. We got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark and we’re wearing sunglasses.

— the Blues Brothers

Well, it was more than 106 miles to Chicago, but you catch my drift. Instead of the cigarettes, I was armed with my best friend, my 1988 Depeche Mode tour shirt, and a surly attitude made worse by both the incompent service at our pre-concert restaurant choice and an Allstate Arena security guard who got off on harassing me.

Then the show started.

I hadn’t been to that venue since it was the Rosemont. A dear friend of mine had Grateful Dead tickets, it was warm out, the air reeked of…well, you can guess. Last night was bitter cold and the only thing you could smell in the air was anticipation and clove cigarettes. Every major concert I’ve been to in the past year has been “Favorites of My Childhood Return To The Stage” (such as the Pixies, and Bauhaus), so there’s an extra dimension to the usual preshow excitement. Childish glee, if you will.

On the stage: a giant silver ball with a peep-window and words which lit up according to the song: “sex,” “angel,” “love,” “vice”…as well as UFO/donut-shaped keyboard stands for Fletch and the (sob) Alan-substitute keyboard player.3 Nov 2005 St. Petersburg FL, photo by Nick Mariano

Dave Gahan was wearing his usual:

Tight black pants + suit jacket. This quickly became…
Tight black pants + leather vest, then finally…
Tight black pants + glistening six-pack + tattoos.

Fletch wore his usual glasses / Casual Dad look (not that there’s anything wrong with that). All the better for his “hit keyboard key, then raise your hands in the air and wave ’em like you just don’t care” schtick. There was a live drummer. And then…there was Martin.

Oh, Martin Gore. Seventh Sartorial Wonder of the rock world. Who else can get away with wearing (among other outfits over the years) bondage gear, frilly dresses, rubber pants, black nailpolish and a curly bleached coif on stage? I submit to you last night’s getup:3 Nov 2005 St. Petersburg FL, photo by Nick Mariano

Black boots covered in feathers, black leggings, a black pleated leather kilt, black top, black feathered wings, and…oh, I couldn’t even make this up: a black chullo-style hat with a giant, fuzzy wool mohawk on top, akin to a Tibetan lama’s headdress. Not bad for an ex-bank teller, eh?

The setlist? Similar, if not the exact same as previous shows. Despite my previous snarky comments about Martin Gore suddenly inheriting a cache of Kraftwerk records (there’s quite a few beep-boop-bop noises on the new album), his songwriting has veered away from the gospel vibe that threatened to depress half of North America for a while back into the pure rock camp.

In fact, watching Gore parade across the stage stage armed with his Gretschs during some of the guitar-heavy tunes, you’d think he was Angus Young wearing eyeliner!

(If anyone knows what star-shaped guitar Martin is playing on this tour, do tell. Looks like everything else was straight out of his Gretsch arsenal. And for the true trainspotters in the crowd see this site and the previously-linked one…they list all the equipment DM’s used on recent tours, and in some cases, read like the Ageing Synthesizer Museum’s gallery guide).

Speaking of equipment, let’s discuss ex-heroin-overdoser Dave Gahan‘s fine physique, shall we?

(My vocabulary has progressed beyond “omigod! like, totally!”, but in many ways I remain a 14-year-old-girl when it comes to seeing a show like this).

He’s 43, he’s still pumping those mike stands in the air like Henry Rollins on a weightstack bender, and whatever else he’s doing to train is clearly working. Perhaps it’s his dance moves, unchanged since 1980-something? I can see the workout tape now: fight fat with Dave’s Whirling Dervish Workout!

It should be noted that this is the first DM album where Gahan actually shares some of the songwriting credit with Gore. I guess his Paper Monsters experience is paying off. Although I’m probably one of the most OCD-laden DM fans you’ll ever meet (as evidenced by my infamous Depeche Mode file, which I keep threatening to scan and post online…perhaps now’s the time?), I was actually getting annoyed by their recent albums.

Ultra, as well as Exciter (umm, hardly), didn’t do half as much for me as, say, Construction Time Again or my all-time favorite, Black Celebration. There were single-song exceptions, of course, such as “Home” (performed last night by Gore in a stark, unadorned yet intensely beautiful manner) and “I Feel Love,” but…

I never liked Songs of Faith and Devotion, with the exception of “I Feel You.” I know, I know. Kick me out of the fanclub, revoke my orange megaphone…but fixin’-to-die music doesn’t do much for me unless it’s sung by Nick Cave, Tom Waits or Johnny Cash. The Fixin’-To-Die Triad, if you will. I’m heartened by the new album (Playing the Angel), because it mixes classic DM synthpop fun with guitar-laden rawk (“John the Revelator” and “A Pain That I’m Used To” are “shake your booty like an iPod commercial” songs if I ever heard ’em).

In short, 4 years away from the band (save solo releases by Gore & Gahan) has brought Depeche Mode back from the edge. They’re putting on high-energy shows again, and clearly enjoying what they do…even if it’s just leading the classic crowd singalongs of “Everything Counts” and “Just Can’t Get Enough.” My favorite band — they’re back, they’re really back!

Photos by fellow DM fan Nick Mariano, from the St. Petersburg, FL show on 3 November, as seen in the DM archives.

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