DEPECHE MODE, Sunday, May 8, 1988, one show only.
Was it live or was it Memorex? Few of the 8,000-or-so Depeche Mode enthusiasts gathered for Sunday's show stopped to ponder that question, and I couldn't really blame them. The power, volume and sheer technology of Depeche Mode is so infectious, so overwhelming, that it's tempting to simply be swept away and not worry about where all those sounds are coming from.For my part, however, I couldn't help but notice there was frequently more music than musicians _ the product, I guess, of the 16-track tapes at stage right rolling relentlessly throughout the show. And while taped background music has long been a staple of rock concerts, I still think there's a point where allegedly "live" music becomes, in truth, fraudulent.
Did Depeche Mode cross that line? Well, to be fair, at least some portion of the show appeared to be "live." They did tinker with the banks of keyboards lined up across the stage, and the sounds that followed seemed genuinely to emanate from those sources. There were also assorted gongs and gadgets which one member or another would whack occasionally, although any noises produced were often lost in the bombastic electronic background.
I also feel fairly certain they actually were singing, not just lip-synching _ and it must be conceded that they really can sing. Lead vocalist David Gahan has the sort of silky resonance reminiscent of the crooners of old, while the three remaining "Modes" _ Martin Gore, Andy Fletcher and Alan Wilder _ harmonized flawlessly in the background.
But much of the show, alas, was pre-recorded. From the opening roar of "Behind The Wheel" from their newest "Music For The Masses" LP through two encores, the rhythmic whir of background synthesizers and the blaring, mechanical percussion was all the product of computers, tape or both.
And, in fairness, they don't try to hide it. In fact, there were junctures in the concert when all four band members _ even those stationed behind keyboards _ clapped their hands over their heads while the music continued without them. And what's wrong with that? Well, it's a free country, and people can listen to whatever they darn well please. And I'll admit songs like "Just Can't Get Enough," "Blasphemous Rumours" and "A Question Of Lust" are very catchy, live or otherwise.
But it's inevitable that a concert executed within the constraints of pre-recorded background music will lack spontaneity. Each song has to be performed exactly the way it was the night before, leaving band members little room to improvise or depart from the established script.
For a lot of people, I guess that's OK. But for me, I think I'll be content from here on out to play Depeche Mode recordings in the comfort of my own home.