I’m about an hour away from landing in San Francisco as I start this piece, trying sum up the last show of the tour without completely embarrassing myself in public. However, as the events of the last 24 hours continue to soak in, I find it increasingly difficult to hold back the tears of joy. To say last night’s show at the Esprit Arena was amazing seems generic – a blanket term that can’t encompass the emotion on and off the stage, the nuances of body language, and the synergy of 50,000 people and a resilient band celebrating the end of a challenging but awesome tour.
The crowd running into the front of stage area was as intense as I’ve experienced at a DM gig. Fans packed in so quickly and tightly, there was barely room to breathe for some folks, and a few waves of shoving ensued. Surely the long wait in the day’s cold and it being the last gig of the tour impacted people’s nerves (with no help from two days of the rumor mill). With time, the tension eased and shoving ceased, but when the band took the stage the crowd compacted just a bit more. While waiting, the crew did a quick screen test that flashed a familiar tape machine – we cheered knowing we were in store for a “Photographic” treat. Oops, spoilers! 😉
After the first song, in which the audience belted nearly every lyric to “In Chains,” Martin and Dave exchanged looks as if to say, “Damn, this is going to be good!” – It was. Every single song from start to finish was sung along with fervor, with the crowd interjecting improvised singalongs at every opportunity. At one point it went on so long, Dave had to shush the crowd so the show could continue.
“Walking in My Shoes” live is always a highlight for me as it is my favorite Depeche Mode song. When the lights went low into the breakdown toward the end, Dave bent over the mic stand, looked at me, smiled and said what appeared to be a quick thank you. I pointed at him with both hands, a smile and a nod, to which he nodded as he turned away to jam with Christian. It was a matter of seconds, but it felt like longer. I was surprised to go back and watch videos and realize just how short it was. It may be silly to overthink little moments like these, but the band do know who their fans are, and they do appreciate them. Of course this brought me a few tears, much to the amusement of the crew in the catwalk corner who called me out on it. We had a good laugh with each other as I feigned embarrassment at having been caught. “Policy of Truth” provided more crew shenanigans when the crowd erupted in balloons. One guy started stacking them on the camera track and in the operator’s chair (a big heart-shaped one) while he was away filming Dave.
Being the SOFAD-lover that I am, I was so glad to hear “One Caress” live. It was another song I thought would pass me by before I knew I was going to Dusseldorf. I noticed it appeared early in the setlist with a different backing screen than the usual SOFAD-colored one, though, so I wondered what we’d be treated to later. We were a little disappointed to hear Somebody since we’d heard it a couple times in North America, but it was still beautifully done. This tour really has seen Martin Gore at his absolute best.
The test-screen hint from before the show proved to be correct as “Photographic” was rolled out in the encore. I think this was the most mental I’d seen any crowd on this tour. My calves were burning and my shoulders squished from the odd way we were packed in, but I still jumped and danced with every bit of energy I could muster. I know this song was played on the Spring/Summer leg of Touring the Angel, but it was so awesome to hear it again and go nuts. I also loved the tongue-in-cheek backing screen with the reel-to-reel tape machine, nodding back to the days when this song was a staple.
The adoration and respect between Dave and Martin has been gaining each tour, and even with every gig. At one point between songs, Dave hugged Martin and the crowd roared. There are fans that really dislike the smiles and affection – that it doesn’t fit the music or their image. Rubbish, considering everything the band has been through in their career. They are a band of brothers, subject to the twists and challenges that come with close personal and creative relationships. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying their new-found contentment each night on stage. It’s no secret that Dave has often struggled with the desire to prove himself to Martin – a little brother looking for the approval of the big brother he admires so much. A large portion of the tension behind the post-Ultra era has been around this struggle. Martin’s praise of Dave’s most recent solo effort, Hourglass, was a breakthrough. I think we thought it had come full-circle then. But this gig saw something unexpected – “We always forget to say, ‘Thank You, Dave Gahan!'” from Martin. Dave was literally floored as his knees hit the floor while reaching to hug Martin. I was choked up, knowing just how much that meant. When Dave said “30 fucking years!” Martin replied, “It’s been a long time coming.” Pictures are worth a thousand words, but being close enough to witness it first-hand, mannerisms and expressions included, is immeasurable. With words we could not hear, Dave put his hands on his chest as he sincerely spoke to Martin with the most earnest and loving expression. There were Martin’s glassy-eyed solos… Then there was Dave fighting back his tears during the whole of Never Let Me Down Again… The latter instantly made me recall the famous moment from the Rosebowl. With everything he had gone through to get to this point this tour, I imagine there were a lot of things going on in his mind. His words were clear and earnest as he fiddled with his pockets during the final “thank yous.”
I was there in Leipzig to welcome Dave and the band back from a terrifying close-call, and I was there to send them off and celebrate their perseverance. It we really a great sense of coming full circle, of being on a journey along side, even if on entirely different tracks. Depeche Mode gigs are always special to their fans, and very often emotional and tear-inducing. However, it is rare that the situation is reversed. At one point early in the night, Dave said “Thank you very much. You’ll never know how much, but thank you very much.” We hear you, Dave – that’s what we’ve been saying for years.