Written by 4:20 am Audiophile Music

Depeche Mode 5.1 in 2014: Techno’s Rolling Stones?

Mark Smotroff embraces 21st Century Depeche Mode with open arms and ears

So while I was watching the live video of Depeche Mode live in Berlin from their 2014 Delta Machine tour, I posted a pic of the show off the TV on Facebook; sharing images of stuff people are listening to at a given moment is a social media phenomenon and a way people turn each other onto music these days. But the curious thing about my post was the first comment from a long term fan lamenting the olden early days of Depeche Mode, referring to this new video — and the tour it represented — as a sign that the band had become “techno’s Rolling Stones.”

I get what he was saying… but I’m not buying into that line wholesale… 

AR-DeltaMachineLiveInBerlinCover225.jpgDepeche Mode is indeed a band that has gone through its distinct phases including the early synth pop era (no drums or guitars on stage, just synthesizers) to their status today which includes a live drummer and support players to fill in where others original members have left. 

There is a lot of love out there for that early version of the band which ascended with early hits like “Just Can’t Get Enough.” 

Back in the day, I wasn’t one of those early fans, I must admit. It wasn’t until the band started adding some guitars into the mix that my ears perked up. Violator and its follow on Songs of Faith and Devotion were revelatory albums for many of us — go on and call us “mainstream” listeners, I can take it. Those albums are still considered among the best pop music put out in the 90s.  After that the band sort of devolved and evolved — perhaps due to drugs, disillusionment, and the wrath of time — and today are survivors of inevitable periods of transition and reinvention. 

It happens …

Today here they are 25-plus years later and they are no longer a small club or even modest theatre sized entity. Depeche Mode still draws huge audiences to big arena stages around the world. Accordingly, their live show has taken on epic proportions of , well, The Rolling Stones or more appropriately U2, with big stage sets, video screens and all the expected trappings of your basic rock ‘n roll band in the 00s. Heck, they even do a lovely “unplugged” style set featuring founding member and major songwriter Martin Gore in a solo spotlight supported by just a keyboard. 

But other than that, and time and some thinning hairlines, the surviving members of Depeche Mode have done remarkably well at transforming from a tidy little synth pop combo to a bonafide arena rock band. This is not a bad thing. 

The times, they are a always, always… always… a-changin’ …. 

Singer Dave Gahan still does his little booty-shaking dances around the stage including his non-stop twirls (moves that probably drove Rod Stewart to give up his booty shakin’ and focus on the great American Songbook).   

Anyhow, when I was down in LA recently, I picked up the bargain priced five-disc boxed set featuring the live concert from Berlin (two audio-only CDs and two different versions on DVD) plus a Blu-ray Disc containing the 5.1 surround mix of their new album Delta Machine as well as a high resolution 96 kHz / 24-bit stereo PCM mix of the recording. 

It sounds great all around for the most part. 

The concert DVD is generally pretty wonderful, presenting modern day Depeche Mode in all their 21st Century schizoid arena rock band presence — I mean this in the best possible way…. I think they do a great job, but I acknowledge and recognize why older fans of the original band might be a bit non-plussed.  Here is the trio version of the band — echoes of Genesis, “And Then There Were Three….” —  supported by robust session players on traditional rock instruments, most notably real live drums. 

And there is lead singer Dave Gahan out there without a net on these enormous stages still strutting the sassy stuff (successfully, mind you) as if he were 19 forever (to borrow a phrase from Joe Jackson).  So, yeah, this show does come across one part Rod Stewart, one part Mick Jagger and one part Michael Jackson up there (hey, I saw a crotch grab!) and one part Kraftwerk.  

But, y’know, at the end of the day, who really cares?  Bottom line: (a) is the music good and (b) how does it sound? 

You know what? The music is really strong, easily their strongest set of songs (that I’ve heard) since Songs of Faith and Devotion.  

And, y’know what?  Live in Berlin and the accompanying high resolution Blu-ray disc of Delta Machine in 5.1 surround sounds pretty “effing” great!  And I say that despite the pedestrian Dolby 5.1 soundtrack afforded on the DVDs (plural — there are two versions of the concert film, one which incorporates interviews with band members and fans).  The video quality suffers a bit, generally quite good despite some visible pixelation on certain scenes.

Personally, I think the fellow who dissed my post on Facebook needs to chill a bit and just enjoy the fact that his synth pop heroes are still alive — Dave Gahan kicked hard drugs in the ’90s  — well, and making music. Good music, in fact.  The newest album, Delta Machine, is something of a return to form. It features some great tunes this side of Violator including “Welcome to My World” and the powerful “Angel.”  “Heaven” is a sort of 21st century blues with a great melodic chorus/hook.

]]>Curiously, Delta Machine is a more synth-centric album than I’ve heard in a while, effectively bridging the gap between the earlier and later incarnations of the band. 

Honestly, I can’t believe I am even writing about this band as there was a period where I completely blew them off and dismissed most anyone who was listening to them. 

I guess I was a bit of a “prog rock snob” at that time, not realizing Depeche Mode was in fact a new twist on the genre. My bad. Mea Culpa. 

AR-DeltaMachineBD225.jpgAnyhow, the other big reason for getting this deluxe box set package is the inclusion of a nice 5.1 mix of Delta Machine on a nice Blu-ray Disc. It also includes a sweet sounding 96 kHz, 24-bit stereo mix. The 5.1 mix finds the group engaging a tasteful balance between the intensely immersive style they used so successfully on the Violator 5.1 mix and a more traditional stereo listening experience (which a lot of people seem to prefer). Delta Machine in 5.1 delivers a gently immersive sound field that percolates with instruments and effects without being invasive or gimmicky.  

I found the song “Angel” to be particularly cool sounding, with treated guitars and vocal echoes popping up in the surrounds. I like the Pink Floyd meets Kraftwerk flavor on the almost minimalist tune “My Little Universe,” with its trippy use of the rear channels..

Anyhow, since buying this box set I have since seen it on sale for less than $30 so you really can’t lose on this one if  you like the band.  It is really nice of the band to throw the hardcore fans a bone with a fairly priced set that has lots of good stuff in it. 

After all… 

You know that fans of Depeche Mode…. 

here it comes …. 

wait for it… 


just can’t get enough! 

(I’ll here in the cheeseball lounge all week folks. Thanks for coming to the show. Be sure to try the veal roast on the buffet).

(Visited 224 times, 1 visits today)