“For years, I was stuck behind a keyboard rig,” Depeche Mode‘s Martin Gore says with a laugh, calling long-distance from backstage in Poland, just minutes before showtime at Warsaw’s National Stadium. “When I started playing guitar onstage, it was a bit of a release – not to be stuck in one spot the whole night. It’s really enjoyable having the freedom to move around. You just have to remember to end up somewhere near a microphone.”
Depeche Mode keep hitting new heights as worldwide road-warrior rock titans, even after 33 years on the job. They bring their Delta Machine Tour to the U.S. this fall, after rolling through Europe the past few months. The electro-goth gods were the first great Eighties synth-pop stars to figure out how to rock an arena. But while most of their peers have been reduced to flogging oldies nostalgia, Depeche Mode keep evolving as a live band. They’re at peak strength right now, as anyone lucky enough to witness their spring teaser gigs in Austin, L.A. or New York can tell you.
So what can American audiences expect? “The set that we’re playing in Europe is longer than we’ve ever played before – 2 hours and 15 minutes,” Gore says. “It’s a mix. There are some songs that are hardcore fan favorites, others that are hits, others that are new, but we like to mix it up. We’re lucky we have an audience that wants us to mix it up.”
As always, Depeche Mode like to slip cult classics into the set. As Gore says, “There’s an element of dilemma because there’s songs we have to play – ‘Enjoy The Silence,’ ‘Personal Jesus,’ maybe that’s it. We’ve done ‘Walking In My Shoes’ for years now, and ‘Never Let Me Down Again.’ Beyond that there are so many songs to choose from. But after 33 years, there’s always some gems in the catalog that you’d forgotten – and that you want to play again.”
This summer, on the European leg of the tour, one of those gems has been an acoustic “Shake The Disease.” As Gore says, “That’s our A-list favorite of the moment. We do that in the acoustic interlude, halfway through the show. That moment is literally me and [keyboardist] Pete [Gordeno] setting up our instruments an hour and a half before the show and saying, ‘What shall we do tonight?’ So there’s an element of freedom there.”
Depeche Mode recently gave the fiercely-beloved 1986 B-side “But Not Tonight” its live debut, sending shockwaves through their diehard fan community. (Originally the flip side of “Stripped,” the song got U.S. airplay after a memorable appearance in the final moments of the teen-cheese classic Modern Girls.) “This spring we played a small show at the Troubadour in L.A. and we did ‘But Not Tonight’ for the first time ever – we did that one acoustic and it was surprising how much people loved it. America is really the only place where the fans love that song – it was a single in America but not in the rest of the world. It’s like a forgotten gem.”
The Mode-men reach America on August 29th, with a gig in Detroit. “We’ve been in Europe for three months,” Gore says. “We’re in Warsaw tonight. It’s the big stadium here – what’s the name again? Well, I can’t pronounce it because it’s in Polish. It’s one of these massive European stadiums. After Europe, we take a short break, so the Americans will be getting us fresh.”
So how does Depeche Mode keep thriving live? “I think we’re really lucky,” Gore says. “Bringing in the additional musicians enriched the sound so much – like Christian [Eigner] on drums and Pete [Gordeno] on keyboards. We had to bring them in, after Alan [Wilder] left. But it’s given us all this flexibility with arrangements, because they’re all such brilliant musicians. Dave [Gahan], he’s one of the best frontmen in the world. We can play small theaters or stadiums, but wherever we play, Dave reaches everybody in the crowd and makes them part of the show. And the crowds are always amazing.”