Depeche Mode: Tour of the Universe 20/21.11.09


RIYL: motherfucking Depeche Mode

On Pack Up the Plantation, the 1985 live album by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the band slowly eases its way into “Breakdown.” Petty sings the first line “It’s all right if you love me” just above a whisper, at which point the crowd takes over, singing all the way through the first chorus and even splitting vocal duties between the lead vocal and the “Breakdoooooooown!” backing vocals. It’s exhilarating to listen to, because you can feel the rush the audience felt by getting the chance to be the star. After a few beats, Petty humbly tells the crowd, “You’re gonna put me out of a job.”

Which brings us to today’s lesson. Letting the audience sing part of one song is one thing; forcing them to sing multiple songs is another.

It made sense that Depeche Mode would want to document their 2009 world tour. They were playing to gigantic crowds, and they hadn’t released a live album since 1993’s Songs of Faith and Devotion Live. With four albums of new material to showcase – though they chose to only play songs from three, skipping 2001’s Exciter entirely – it was time to run the tape recorders once again. Tour of the Universe 20/21.11.09 documents two shows the band played before what looks like the entire population of Barcelona, and you can see why the crowds were so excited. Despite front-loading the set with what feels like half of the band’s most recent album, Sounds of the Universe, Depeche pulled out some gems for this tour, including a whopping four songs from fan favorite Black Celebration. They also had a live drummer and principal songwriter Martin Gore playing guitar almost exclusively during the shows. What’s not to love?

Dave Gahan, that’s what. He’s too busy playing rock star to actually sing the damn songs. Gahan leaves it to the audience to sing far too much – and sometimes makes them sing the chorus twice in the same song – and low-range vocal melodies, even when sung by tens of thousands, cannot stand up to the sound the band is putting out. When the band launches into “A Question of Time,” the crowd is reaching a fever pitch, so when Gahan has them sing the chorus the first time, they’re only happy to oblige. When he forces them to do it a second time, the response is nowhere near as enthusiastic, and you can actually hear the crowd deflating. If you have cameras rolling, and they just captured you killing the crowd’s buzz while you fed your ego, would you really test the crowd’s patience again?

Sadly, the answer is yes…twice. Gahan does it again on “Policy of Truth” and – this is the unforgivable one – “Enjoy the Silence,” the band’s biggest hit. The arrangement of the song is spectacular, with the band launching into a fantastic breakdown, but Gahan will not sing the chorus. Now, this is one thing to watch in person – which we did, because he did the exact same thing when the band played Lollapalooza last year – but it’s another altogether to watch on a DVD, where you’ll be reaching for the Fast Forward button even on your favorite songs. It’s even worse onthe CD, where it just sounds like a karaoke track and the singer is too drunk to read the lyrics on the Teleprompter. If there is one show where Dave should have sucked it up and sung the damn songs, this is the one.

Then there is the matter of their drummer Christian Eigner. His playing is fine, but his snare drum is positively flat, as if the band is too afraid to sound like the rock band they’re pretending to be. They would have been better off giving the bottom end the thump that a live setting demands. As it is, the drum tracks from Music for the Masses – a 23-year-old album – sound harder than what Eigner plays here. The direction of the show is spotty, too, spending far too much time out of focus or, worse, focused on the fans recording the show on their phones (worst, trend, ever).

This was a golden opportunity to showcase Depeche Mode’s staying power and their status as godfathers of electronic music, but Tour of the Universe, despite a great set list and solid performances (when Gahan deigns to sing, anyway), does not cut it. It’s one of those things where you simply had to be there to get the full effect of the experience. If Dave had sung all of the damn songs, this set would be essential. As it is, it’s diehards-only material.(Capitol 2010)

Depeche Mode MySpace page
Click to buy Tour of the Universe from Amazon

  

Nada Surf: If I Had a Hi-Fi


RIYL: Josh Rouse, Rogue Wave, The Silver Seas

The cool thing about alt-pop band Nada Surf is that they appear to always do things their own way. For whatever reason, though, they stayed together all these years and broke through in 2005 with The Weight Is a Gift, which was produced by Death Cab for Cutie’s Chris Walla. The band continued some of that magic with 2008’s Lucky, and instead of lying low as they had planned, decided to release an album of cover tunes. Fast-forward to today, and If I Had a Hi-Fi. While it’s a set of songs that varies widely from the known (Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence” and The Moody Blues’ “Question”) to the currently hip (The Go Betweens’ “Love Goes On” and Spoon’s “Agony of Lafitte”) to the mostly obscure (Bill Fox’s “Electrocution” and Macromina’s “Evolucion”), the base of this is Nada Surf’s signature sound, which is akin to Josh Rouse or Ben Folds fronting a modern version of the Beatles. And it’s that sound that is so endearing. That said, there is something about this album that, while nice enough, may leave you wanting more. That could be because Nada Surf’s original material is that good, or it could be that they just chose these songs on a whim based on what they were listening to at the moment. Surely we can’t fault them for taking chances, because they even covered Kate Bush’s “Love and Anger.” But one or two covers on a new Nada Surf record would have worked just as well. (Mardev 2010)

Nada Surf MySpace page

  

Lollapalooza 2009, Friday recap: would you like a little water torture with your rock?

It’s amazing what a slow, steady rainfall will do to, um, dampen one’s spirits. The Friday lineup for this year’s Lollapalooza was pretty damn good, but we felt decidedly less frisky once it meant walking or standing in a cold rain. Of course, the forecast for Saturday and Sunday calls for brutally hot temperatures and lots of sun. Ah, Chicago. My favorite city, but the weather really is awful.

Yuto Miyazawa, Kidzapalooza stage
Medsker: How about this for our first band of the day: a nine-year-old Japanese kid who can absolutely shred on guitar. He can’t sing, of course, but no one really minded. He loves Ozzy, and played three Ozzy/Sabbath tunes in his set, as well as a Deep Purple song. Very cool. It’s funny how many Sabbath covers I’ve heard a Lolla over the years. The best is still the Dresden Dolls’ sick cover of “War Pigs.” They own that song now.

Manchester Orchestra, Budweiser stage
Medsker: Perhaps I’m showing my age when we say this, but…oh, there’s just no nice way to say this: I think these guys suck. Their first song didn’t have any discernible hook, and then the singer did that goddamn screamo thing. And their drummer…you know how drummers overact when shooting a music video, with the arms flying up and down to even the simplest or slowest beat? This band’s drummer actually plays like that. I lasted roughly two minutes, and I had had enough.

Gringo Star, BMI stage
Medsker: This unassuming Georgia band helped get the taste of Manchester Orchestra out of my mouth, but the rain was making my antsy. I left after about four songs to head south.

Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears, Vitamin Water stage
Medsker: I was thrilled that Black Joe Lewis was invited to perform at Lolla, but their inclusion also amuses me. They’re more of a Summerfest or Jazzfest band than a Lolla band, but then again, inviting a James Brown-style rock and soul group to Lollapalooza is pretty alternative, now that I think about it. I bet these guys would blow the doors off of a small club. They sounded fine here, but again, the rain was getting to me. Plus, it was lunch time.

Before Black Joe Lewis started, I listened to Hey Champ a keys-drums combo from Rockford, and they were pretty damn good. Definitely looking into them when I get home.

The Knux, Citi stage
Eldred: This New Orleans-based alt-hip-hop group may have been saddled with a side stage appearance, but they could have dominated the biggest stage in Grant Park with their swagger and cocky attitude. They had the tunes to match and ended their high energy set by turning the stage into a dance party, complete with their DJ spinning MGMT’s “Electric Feel” and House of Pain’s “Jump Around.”

White Lies, Budweiser stage
Eldred: It’s pouring down rain and I’ve never heard these guys before, but in every photo I’ve seen of them, their pale asses looked ridiculous, so I had to make time to see them, if only for novelty’s sake. After trekking across the park in the rain and getting colder and wetter, I realize that this is a hell of a commitment for a joke. However, once the pale London boys took the stage, I was shocked that they weren’t that bad. Actually, they were pretty damn good. However, I’m cold and wet so I head back to the hotel after just a couple songs for a drying pit stop.

Amazing Baby, Citi stage
Medsker: I’m very fond of this glam band’s debut album, and they sounded really good live, but enough was enough. I was drenched. I headed back to Eldred’s hotel room (he got a room at the Hilton on Michigan, lucky bastard) to dry off. His friend Lisa gave me a poncho. What a difference that made.

Ben Folds, Budweiser stage
Medsker: Ah, it’s good to see Ben with a band again. The last time I saw Folds live was that piano tour with Rufus Wainwright, which was cute but a far cry from Ben Folds Five’s live shows. His new band is damn good (especially the drummer), and Folds gave the soaking wet audience a good mix of songs from his whole career (though he didn’t play anything from BF5’s first album). The cover of “Bitches Ain’t Shit” got the crowd moving, and then he stunned me by pulling out “Narcolepsy.” Well chosen set, even if he skipped the first album. Even better, I almost literally ran into Folds in the media area during Black Joe Lewis’ set. Very cool.

Crystal Castles, Vitamin Water stage
Eldred: Refreshed, dry and now safely covered in a poncho, I return just in time to see a special breed of insanity by the name of Alice Glass. The lead singer of the electronic duo ran out on stage with a bottle of vodka and tore it up, even when her microphone fell apart. She got a working model just in time to run into the audience and nearly pick a fight with someone in the crowd. Things are reconciled when she pours vodka into the first three rows. Amazing show, but that bitch is crazy.

Of Montreal, Vitamin Water stage
Eldred: Speaking of crazy: capes, men dressed as tigers, gas masks, gender-confused back-up dancers, Of Montreal took crazy to a whole new level, living up to their reputation as one of the most entraining live bands on Earth. It was glamtastic brilliance, so needles to say the cover of Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream” was not at all unexpected. Strange but awesome, however I had to take off early to get a choice spot for Depeche Mode.

Depeche Mode, Chicago 2016 Stage
Eldred: I’ve been waiting to see Depeche Mode for over 10 years. They lived up too all of my unrealistic expectations by blowing the crowd away with choice cuts from the new album, including the single “Wrong” to lesser-known older tunes like “In Your Room” and “Policy of Truth.” (Editor’s note: “Policy of Truth” is lesser known?) Gahan and co. are firing on all cylinders and by the time they get to the epic finale of “Enjoy The Silence” and “Never Let Me Down Again,” I’ve lost my damn mind (along with most of the audience). The encore of “Personal Jesus” is expected, but still welcome. The bar has been set high for the rest of the festival’s closers.

Medsker: They played three songs from Black Celebration. Hell, yes.

On deck for Saturday: Band of Skulls, Beatles offspring, Arctic Monkeys, Miike Snow, and Eldred is faced with a choice: Santigold, or Glasvegas?

  

Depeche Mode: The Dark Progression

A definite step above the other unauthorized biographies in Sexy Intellectual’s catalog but not yet on par with the Classic Albums series, this look at the metamorphosis of Depeche Mode from cult electronic act to one of the biggest bands in the world makes one hell of an argument for the band as a worthy inductee into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Featuring interviews with several of the band’s producers (Gareth Jones, Dave Bascombe, Daniel Miller) and electronic peers (Thomas Dolby, Gary Numan, OMD’s Andy McCluskey), the documentary focuses on the band’s rather gutsy decision to explore darker territory, beginning with 1986’s Black Celebration and ending with 1993’s Songs of Faith and Devotion, by which time the band was topping the US charts. The claim that the documentary features interviews with the band members is a tad dishonest, as they merely include clips from the short films that Mute assembled for the reissues of the band’s catalog in 2006 (and only one clip per member at that). They also gloss over the reasons behind Alan Wilder’s departure from the band, a move from which the band has only recently begun to recover. However, there is enough here that will thrill fans of the band in particular and of electronic music in general. Who knew that Andrew Fletcher was a fan of heavy metal? (Sexy Intellectual 2009)

Click here to buy Depeche Mode: The Dark Progression

  

Morel: The Death of the Paperboy

Morel is an acclaimed remix artist who as worked with Pink, Depeche Mode, Cyndi Lauper and about a dozen or so other platinum artists. He’s also well known in house music circles for his club singles and his work with the dance music duo Deep Dish. But his career as a solo artist has been noticeably less successful, and The Death of the Paperboy probably isn’t going to change that. Too much of this album has Morel going away from his strengths, and experimenting with ballads and rock-driven pop songs. It occasionally works; “Anymore, Anymore” sounds like some fabulous combination of Erasure and Oasis, and the upbeat “Flawed” sounds like Hot Fuss-era Killers with a dozen or more synthesizers plugged in, but for the most part it all straddles the line into either generic dance music or down-tempo electronic pop. But let’s be honest, Morel makes music predominately for (gay) club play, and there are a few songs here that work great in that regard. But if that doesn’t interest you, then there is no reason to even glance at The Death of the Paperboy. (Outsider Music 2008)

Morel’s MySpace Page

  

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