Brazos Hall isn’t big enough for Dave Gahan, who took to the Austin club’s stage at SXSW last night and commanded a self-pinching 900-capacity crowd – including Billy Corgan, Usher and Matt Sorum – like he was playing the Rose Bowl. Aside from the band’s Letterman preview stream last week, it was Depeche Mode’s first proper gig since 2010.
If the synth-pop pioneers were rusty, they didn’t show it. Throughout the criminally-brief 45-minute, 10-song set – half of which was comprised of live debuts from the band’s forthcoming LP, Delta Machine – Gahan carried himself with a cocksure look of purpose. Expressive as ever, the consummate frontman spun around, mic stand in hand, doubled over himself like a jack-knife as he belted from the deepest depths of diaphragm and, like a fast-stalking velociraptor, involuntarily shimmied between the wings of a stage barely big enough to contain him. At one point the cropped-pompadoured serpentine singer even busted out a brief Elvis impression, doing a one-armed windmill and pointing at the ceiling as he dropped to one knee. Was this 1988? Far from it.
In long-running live Depeche tradition, guitarist and frontman-behind-the-curtain Martin Gore took center mic to sing a ballad. In this instance, it was “Only When I Lose Myself,” which, to the thrill of superfans, the band performed for the first time since 1998. It faired well, following Delta Machine’s slow-drawn lead-off single, “Heaven.” “Lose Myself” was also notably one of five Nineties singles that filled out the set (the others being “Personal Jesus,” “Enjoy the Silence,” “Walking in My Shoes” and the rarely-performed “Barrel of a Gun”).
The band played nothing from the Eighties. It was a fitting choice, since the Delta Machine songs sound more like the band’s under-appreciated Clinton-era output than anything off Black Celebration or Music for the Masses. And judging by the crowd’s hung-on-every-note response, in the moment no one seemed to mind.
Set opener “Angel” centered around one of Gore’s western-style New Wave riffs. Combined with Gahan’s gravelly delivery on the uplifting chorus, in which he croons “I’ve found the peace I’ve been looking for,” the cut could’ve just as easily appeared on 1993 industrial gospel set Songs of Faith and Devotion. The chorus riff of the throbbing dance cut “Soft Touch/Raw Nerve” was an obvious throwback to “Personal Jesus,” perhaps explaining why the band paired the two songs together, Gore and Gahan teasing the latter with a slowed-down, guitar-vocals-only intro.
Though “Personal Jesus” and “Enjoy the Silence” – the band’s two signature songs – were the sole powerhouse hits in the set, the crowd only seemed bothered by the show’s brevity and lack of an encore. Chants of “One . . . more . . . song!” rattled the building – a converted warehouse space – until the house lights came on. But that probably would have also happened if the band had played for three hours.