Tuesday, 22 March 2016


As we've seen (http://almostpredictablealmost1.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/the-black-celebration-world-tour.html) the Black Celebration tour was Depeche Mode's largest to date and saw them play the largest venues they'd played as headliners. I didn't see the tour sadly but the people I know who did see it tell me it was fantastic. It seems an appropriate point then to have a look at the reviews from the time to see what the music press made of it all. All reviews are sourced from DM TV Archives - thanks very much again to them and, once again, let me remind you to go and sign up for their forum where you will find much more than just Black Celebration era releases.

Record Mirror kick us off with a review of the Brighton show on 31 March

Brighton Conference Centre - March 31, 1986

I arrived in time to witness a novel opening ceremony featuring a gauze screen between Depeche and hankering audience. Halfway through 'Black Celebration' the barrier dropped to lascivious shrieks... and there they were, leather clad and lovely (but what about the tunes? - Ed).

The most intriguing aspect of 'A Question Of Time', which followed, was undoubtedly Dave Gahan's obsession with his trousers. The poor boy seemed unduly paranoid that he might be exposing something he shouldn't.

'Fly On The Windscreen' saw Dep Mode getting into their stride and Fletch getting into his individual brand of gyrations. It easily surpassed the vinyl version with its Big Brother-ish voices echoing around the cavernous hall.

With three keyboards and an array of electronic regalia, the Deps were evidently using their floppy discs to the full. In fact, the taxing selection of said objects proved Alan Wilder's sole exertion.
'Leave In Silence' heralded a new found confidence in the trousers' staying power, with brazen David indulging in a vigorous spot of bum-wiggling.

Martin relinquished his post to stride upstage and assume vocal duties on 'Sometimes' and 'A Question Of Lust'. Mart had the most disappointing apparel though - military jacket and black leggings (at least he has the legs for the latter - please note, J Kerr). He later stripped to reveal a fetching cutaway black polo neck. One has to wonder how many chaperoning fathers later questioned their offspring about that alluring blond at the back.

The Deps' weak points weren't remotely disguised tonight - samey sounding songs and lyrical tweeness both reared their heads, the latter exemplified by 'New Dress'. I sincerely hope Dave Gahan was singing 'Princess Di is wearing a new dress' with tongue firmly embedded in cheek.

Still, you can't call them predictable. 'Master And Servant' was interrupted by an instrumental break straight out of 'Una Paloma Blanca'. Move over Martin Degville [Sigue Sigue Sputnik's singer], your 15 minutes are up: Martin Gore and co have several more minutes to go.
Lesley O'Toole

Hmm. Don't think Martin sang Sometimes. Positive overall though. Melody Maker comes next with a review of the Belfast gig on 4 April and it goes like you'd think:

Maysfield Leisure Centre, Belfast - April 4, 1986

Visually, Dave Gahan now has a very snappy line in dance bum sculpture and can hop along almost as dizzily as Chris Sullivan used to. His mate Bubbles, the only other Depecher to come down off his pedestal, is a little kinkier, in his designer hand cuffs [sic], SS boots and the remnants of his girlfriend's lingerie torn round his tits.

They kick off playing "Black Celebration" behind a massive black curtain of muslin. The screen drops and they pound into "Stripped", with the tantalizing, lurching thrill of the floodlight unveiling like the peeling off of a stocking. Next, it's straight bang into a run of the last few singles, riding the audience's randy rush for the next 25 minutes and cresting with "Shake The Disease".

But ... all too soon the mid-section new album sampler starts - "Dressed In Black", Fly On The Windscreen" - with its "new" directions and tales of ordinary mid-poplife crisis and all the rest of the bunk and bleedalong that's a bit difficult to pass off.

But later, away from the numbers, and down in the train station at midnight, you could still hear the tail end encore strains of "Just Can't Get Enough" beatboxing through the Maysfield walls, synching perfectly with the axle grind of the rolling stock. And for a split second it seemed the Mute men had briefly achieved the awkward synthesis of sugar pop and heavy industrial monster sound desired.
Adrian Maddox

I promised myself I wouldn't react to these like I did with the album reviews...

...HOWEVER, first of all Black Celebration "pounded" into A Question Of Time not Stripped and secondly, the word Martin is shorter than "Bubbles" so why bother with that. And oh look, the British music press is going on about the clothes again. Sigh.

The NME went to Glasgow on the 6th of April

S.E.C. Glasgow - April 6, 1986

Chuga Chuga Dunk ... chuga chuga dunk ...

If you like that sort of thing, it was probably worth standing in a venue that looks, feels and smells like a shopping precinct and paying seven quid for the privilege. Glasgow audiences aren't that stupid so only half of them turned up - I was unlucky enough to be in that half, the half watching some of the most insane mediocrity to ever rise like scum to the top of the British pop business.

Depeche Mode ... are ... eh ... well, talentless in the most comic way possible. Apart from being impossibly dull with their rinky dinky metal music; their self conscious posing behind keyboards that sound well sluggish (next time use Duracell, lads, you know it makes sense); their inflatable neon pyramid set; their well-meaning air of intense cerebral activity; that feeling they imply of their music being important is ridiculous to the extent of being really embarrassing.

Who really cares in the end whether Dancing Dave rips off Michael Jackson or Jim Kerr? If Martian Martin can't sing? Five thousand screaming teenie-weenies can't be wrong - Depeche Mode are completely unobjectionable. Most of the time.

What is totally objectionable is the way they feed their adoring audience with ideas so badly expressed as to be mentally constipated. Just because you're 13 doesn't mean to say you're thick, therefore why waste time and embarrass yourself in later life by mouthing "people are people" in public? Or, even worse, the chorus of a new song about the corruption of truth in the daily rags which goes "Princess Di is wearing a new dress". How do they have the brass neck to look meaningful while they sing this? How do they have the gall to make the audience sing along? Why don't they hire a lyricist? Why am I here? Why stay for the encores when you can go to the pub?
Andrea Miller

There's little point in even having a go there really. The one thing Andrea Miller gets right is her description of the SECC. It is an awful venue. Other than that, it's the most dreadful bollocks.

Sounds reported from the Birmingham N.E.C gigs:

Bum Deal
N.E.C. Birmingham - April 9-10, 1986

They must have spent a fortune on the elaborate stage set and ritzy light show. Yet for all of the hi-tech special effects, it's the more mundane and distinctly lo-tech effect of Dave Gahan taking off his jacket and wiggling his leather-clad bum about which sends the audience into raptures.

A question of lust? Not really. It's more a question of providing vulnerable young minds with a safe and unthreatening foundation on which to build romanticised adolescent fantasies. The girls, I suspect, can see themselves swooning in the Boy David's arms. The boys, I imagine, can see themselves taking his place and holding the girls - all in soft focus.

Somebody has to do the job. But what a shallow way to earn a crust, constantly turning the other cheek so that both sides of the hall can get an eyeful. The music is incidental, a synthesised soundtrack to a story that's at least as old as Elvis Presley And His Amazing Gyrating Pelvis. Every song sounds the same, with that dreadfully flat beat which synths generate, the uncompromisingly monotonous melody lines and the lyrics which strain to rhyme.

There's nothing very much wrong with Depeche Mode. But there's nothing very right with them either. By studiously avoiding anything so dangerous as originality or imagination, Depeche Mode are simply keeping the customers satisfied. The customers, unfortunately, seem to be easily pleased."

Wow. The music press at the time really didn't like Depeche Mode. Despite that, and despite not being enamoured with the Belfast gig, Melody Maker went back for more at Wembley Arena:

Depeche Mode/Hula
Wembley Arena

Lust For Life

Depeche Mode are a funny breed. Thirteen-year-old girls in mini-skirts and boys who look like Third Division footballers wearing Chinese Slippers. Most of them hung around in the dusty corners of the venue, discovering the joys of under-age alcoholism and ongoing puberty, while Hula hammered and tickled quietly from behind the curtains. The cleaning lady swept, a lot of gum got chewed and Hula sort of got forgotten. Rest assured though that every young witness woke up the next morning with love blisters all over their bodies. Hula aren't about to be ignored.

Surprisingly, Depeche Mode manage to make their performances more than mere spectacle, channeling and distorting more energy than at just about any other concert I've ever seen. Whereas Durranies are forced to wobble and wander in a sea of unfocussed oomph, Depeche fans are skillfully shaped by a sort of punk pomp cut into chunks of hyperactivity. You get the feeling that in between the squeals and the roars, these people could kill.

From the moment the black curtains drifted to the floor like a chiffon scarf and the boy in front of me went bonkers, to the resonant blip of the second encore and hour-and-a-bit later, Depeche Mode skimmed electropop of the highest order somewhere between brain and groin level.

David took his coat off and swivelled his leather hips on the giant video screen above the stage. "People Are People" crashed into "Master And Servant", hacked at the knees of "Everything Counts" and came to rest in the bushes with "Stripped".

Real star of the show was Martin, complete with body harness and backless top. He manages to convey an air somewhere in between bewildered virgin and experienced dungeon master, while hammering away with his vocal contribution to the new "Question Of Lust" single.

Unfortunate slabs of stadium rockism began to impinge towards the end of the show but the rest was sharp, slithery pop - way ahead of the pack. Depeche Mode make Test Department look like navvies.
Paul Mathur

That's a bit more like it. As least Paul Mathur seemed to watch the show unlike many of the other British reviewers. Time to skip across the pond and see what America thought.

First up, The Inquirer reported on the gig at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby:


Live Tower Theater, Upper Darby, Philadelphia courtesy of Depeche Mode Classic Photos and Videos

Pop/rock: Depeche Mode Synthesizes At The Tower
By Ken Tucker

Depeche Mode, the English band that performed last night at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby, consists of four members and makes all of its music on synthesizers of various sorts.

This might seem limiting - after all, how many sounds can you pull out of a machine, right? Depeche Mode's music suggests, however, that you can, in fact, create catchy pop music of quite tolerable diversity from such a setup.

At the Tower, the quartet concentrated on the sort of vehement, implacable rhythms that have made this group a favorite in music clubs: This is good music to dance to.

Chief songwriter Martin Gore comes up with just enough variations on the danceable beat to keep your interest up, and falters only in the area of lyrics, which tend to be exaggeratedly bleak.

In one song after another, couples dress in black and stare morosely at each other; a choice Gore metaphor is to compare humanity to squashed flies on a car windshield. Cheerful our Martin is not; it's no wonder that the band's new album is titled Black Celebration (Sire Records).

The good thing about Depeche Mode in concert, though, is that the music is brisk and loud; this permits you to ignore the words while appreciating the intricate interplay of rhythm and repetition that comprises most of the group's compositions.

The young women in last night's Tower audience - a majority of the crowd, to my eye - screamed delightedly at the wiggles and hip-shakes of lead singer David Gahan.

Last night's opening act was Book of Love, an all-synthesizer band that was less successful in injecting much warmth or humor into its machine-dominated performance.
Depeche Mode and Book of Love are to perform a second, sold-out show at the Tower tonight.

It's funny that people were still amazed that machines could make noise. Seems Mr Tucker didn't appreciate the lyrics the humans sang mind you. The New York Times seemed to like the gig they saw at Radio City Music Hall, though it's hard to be sure:

Billy Idol. sorry Martin Gore onstage Radio City Music Hall, courtesy of Depeche Mode Classic Photos & Videos

The Clangorous Pop Of Depeche Mode
By Stephen Holden

The British pop quartet, Depeche Mode, which accomplished the feat of selling out three shows at Radio City Music Hall this weekend without the benefit of a hit single or top-selling album, has amassed a large and fervent cult following through a shrewd mixing and matching of styles.

The group used to be lumped into the so-called new romantic movement that spawned Duran Duran.

And while it has not discarded its fashion-conscious image, it has toughened both its looks and its music. Depeche Mode now presents itself as a quartet of post-punk leather boys doubling as fashion mannequins. Martin Gore, the group's chief songwriter and part-time lead singer, in particular, cultivates a look whose mixture of satanic spikiness and pouty glamour resembles that of the pop star Billy Idol.

Influenced by the West German band Einsturrzende Neuubaten, whose music incorporates the sounds of industrial noise, Depeche Mode has evolved a clangorous, crunching style of pop that at times verges on heavy metal. Its mechanized dance rhythms are shot through with abrasive, often ominously metallic sound effects. In concert, even its most cheerful music suggests a merry-go-round playing at half speed.

At Friday's concert, these ball-and-chain dance rhythms made a deeper impression than any of the group's robotically intoned, chantlike songs. The audience responded physically to music that has retained the regular beat of disco but with a retarded momentum and a futuristically murky ambiance.

Never quite saw Martin as Billy Idol I must say. The Washington Post's review of the gig at Merriweather Post Pavilion was very positive:

Ticket for the Merriweather Post Pavilion gig, courtesy of Depeche Mode Classic Photos & Videos

Depeche Mode's Austere Technopop
J.D. Considine

Depeche Mode began its performance Saturday night at the Merriweather Post Pavilion with a genuine "Black Celebration," performing the title song from its newest album from behind a curtain as stage lights chased shadows across the black surface. It was such an impressive effect that it seemed anticlimactic when the band was finally revealed. After all, with three of the band's four members stuck behind synthesizers, most of the show's visual interest was left to the stark, modernistic stage design.

Not that the instrumentalists needed to busy themselves behind their keyboards, as sequencers and drum machines did most of the musical work. Still, singer David Gahan tried his best to act animated, spinning across the stage and twirling his mike stand like a junior-grade Paul Young.

Somehow, though, his arena-rock moves seemed out of place against the austere, mechanistic grooves of "Master and Servant" or "New Dress."

Fortunately, few seemed to care, as the band emphasized function over fashion to bring the house down with such songs as "People Are People," "Blasphemous Rumours" and "Just Can't Get Enough."

By concert's end, neither could the fans.

Junior grade Paul Young? I know Dave's dancing at the time wasn't the best, but Paul Young? The pretend soul singer who once had the audacity to cover Love Will Tear Us Apart? Nonsense.

On 19 June, Canadian paper The Globe And Mail published a rather bland review of the previous night's gig at Kingswood Music Theatre:

Martin ignoring the smart.casual dresscode backstage Kingswood Music Theatre, courtesy of Depeche Mode Classic Photos & Videos

Depeche's drone a monotonous hit

DEPECHE MODE calls its latest album Black Celebration. Last night at the Kingswood Music Theatre, the British quartet put on almost a two-hour display of thoroughly modern music that was anything but. Cheered on by a near-sellout crowd of more than 10,000 adoring young trendies, this was very much a White Celebration (or, to be more precise, a White Suburban Teenage Celebration).

Had you asked a certified futurologist in 1966 what music would be like 20 years later, the description probably would have been something very similar to the music Depeche Mode played last night. There was neither a guitar nor a drum kit in sight. The band appeared with (count 'em) three synthesizer players churning away in the background, and one lead singer, David Gahan, prancing up front.

The synthesizers punched out what amounted to an industrial- strength backbeat, over which Gahan recited the band's dark visions. Generally speaking, the songs consisted of little more than slim melody lines grafted to a given tempo.

The show opened with the title cut from Black Celebration, a moody, almost haunting number in which Gahan spouted vaguely mysterious lyrics over a ricky-ticky tape-loop backbeat. It was followed by A Question of Time, a speedier number highlighted by Gahan's Big Move, in which the singer spread out his arms horizontal to the ground and spun around like a top.

It may not seem like much on paper, but this manoeuvre seemed to have a devastating effect on the young girls in the audience who screeched deliriously every time it was performed. Unfortunately, this Pavlovian response was repeated about a hundred times during the course of the evening.

The rest of the performance followed much the same order, with dark, doom-laden numbers (throbbing backbeat, sombre lighting and sodden atmosphere, with such titles as Fly on the Windscreen and It Doesn't Matter Two) invariably juxtaposed with peppier, poppier pieces (snappier beat, brighter lighting and more damn spinning from Gahan).

After half an hour or so, it was all rather predictable, but Depeche Mode must be doing something right. This one appearance almost outdrew the combined attendance totals of all three of the band's immediate predecessors at Kingswood (Julian Lennon, Joe Jackson and Mike and the Mechanics), and a second concert scheduled for tomorrow night is already sold out.

Depeche Mode's opening act was another British synthesizer quartet called Book of Love. The three women and lone man could learn a lot about staging from the headliners. Generally, they pranced about in front of pre-recorded backing tapes, and drew a response that ranged from widespread chuckling to downright apathy. Perhaps they hadn't calibrated their tape machines in just the right way.

At least Depeche managed to attract more punters than Mike & The Mechanics. God, music was so bad back then. On 15 July, the L.A Times took in the show at the Forum, Inglewood:


Live The Forum, Inglewood 13 July, courtesy of Depeche Mode Classic Photos & Videos

Pop Music Review : Depeche Mode's Dark Message

Let's have a black celebration tonight, to celebrate the fact that we've seen the back of another black day...

"Sing it!" exhorted singer David Gahan cheerily, prompting the masses to join in during the opening number of Depeche Mode's sold-out Forum show Sunday. "Come on!"

"Death is everywhere"... "There are flies on the windscreen"... "There are lambs for the slaughter"...

"Come on!" the prancing and preening singer implored minutes later, inviting more audience participation before launching into the first of many hip-thrusting episodes.

Boiled down to its basics, Depeche Mode's message would seem to be: Eat, drink and wiggle your rear, for tomorrow we end up squashed like bugs on the cosmic windshield of life. Of course, it's not quite that simple--to be fair, the quest for love also figures into the equation--but it IS that obsessed with death.

And given young Angelenos' penchant for dressing in black even before Depeche Mode recorded a song called -- you guessed it -- "Dressed in Black," it shouldn't be as great a shock as it is to discover that, while some of us weren't paying attention, the English quartet has apparently become the band of choice among white L.A. teen-agers. (In addition to the Forum date, shows at Irvine Meadows Monday and tonight also sold out.)

The group's immense popularity locally--as opposed to the rest of the country, by the way, where Mode-mania is not nearly as rampant--has given pause to more than one adult. Parents worried about the band's overriding morbidity and rock purists perturbed over the band's all-synthetic instrumentation want to know one thing:

"What's the matter with these kids today?"

Probably nothing that wasn't the matter back when Pete Townshend was hoping he'd die before he got old. Depeche songwriter Martin Gore has a sharp way of articulating the loneliness, anxiety and fear of impending doom and/or nothingness that seem to particularly afflict teens in the midst of a pre-pre-pre-midlife crisis.

Combine that with irritatingly catchy melody lines sung in a minor-key monotone over danceable industrial rhythms, throw in a geeky-looking haircut or two, and 'voila'! One order of depresso-techno-pop coming up.

The rock-haters who get so up in arms over the comic-book devilry of the heavy metal bands would better spend their time studying why an audience of more than 15,000 -- nearly all between ages 12 and 19 -- so readily sings along with the bitter "Blasphemous Rumours," which facetiously professes belief in a cruel, sadistic God.

The subject matter is heavy, the all-synthesizer sound mostly brooding and oppressive, save for an occasional upbeat ditty like "Just Can't Get Enough." So the Mode's means of keeping things moving on stage is singer Gahan, whose dancing antics -- including enough pelvic thrusts to give Prince pause -- often seemed at odds with what he was crooning.

The predictably more subdued Gore took center stage to sing a couple of his compositions in a vocal range more pleasing than Gahan's, though his charisma lay entirely in his costuming.

You have to wonder what's going on with a guy who writes a song like "Master and Servant" -- which presumably takes a stance against the unequally yoked role-playing of the title--and then appears on stage in what looks like a leather domination outfit, complete with handcuffs dangling at his side.

"I said, are you having a good time?" repeated Gahan, doing the usual rock star amenities late in the evening. Earlier he'd sung that "It Doesn't Matter," because all the good times are going to end sooner or later -- but then, "No one here gets out alive" isn't a very savvy taste to leave with a departing crowd. When you're selling out the Forum, even a black celebration can be a happy affair.

I think he liked it? His attention to detail was typically poor though - firstly, It Doesn't Matter was never played on that tour and, even if it had been, Dave wouldn't have sung it. I know that I'm a Depeche fan and I know that makes me an automatic pedant, but getting the names of the songs right is surely something you'd expect a journalist to do isn't it?

I'm going to leave the last word to the late John Peel. John was a well respected U.K. D.J. who was known for giving a chance to all sorts of bands. He was also a devout fan of Liverpool F.C. so that makes him even more of a hero in my book. Anyway, he was sent to review one of the Wembley gigs from April 1986 and he had this to say:

During the first song (Black Celebration),the net screen fell to reveal the band and a fine, unclutered stage set that had to it something of the look of a Japanese interior. 

The musicians and their synthesizers were mounted each on a small platform,leaving a considerable expanse of stage for singer Dave Gahan to prowl,visually this is a story of four haircuts. Gahan's is black,angular, infexible. Alan Wilder is the rock and roll rebel,all grease and quiff,while Martin Gore is the post punk fetishist,a 30's health and strength haircut over crossed leather body straps,black miniskirt and leather trousers. Andy Fletcher looks like one of the hipper children's presenters smart modern,friendly,exalting the audience to clap along. 

The wholly electronic music remains a deal harder than you might imagine from the records, I left Wembley a bit of a fan. If we are to have bands filling the world's stadiums,then let them be like Depeche Mode.

Turns out John got what he wanted. 

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