By Mikael Wood
11:10 AM PDT, March 16, 2013
AUSTIN, Texas -- Big bands in small venues -- it's become a ritual at the South by Southwest music festival, where even A-list rock stars recognize the opportunity to launch a new project or heal a wounded reputation. But if Depeche Mode and Green Day found themselves Friday night in venues a fraction of the size of those they normally play, neither group pared down its show to accommodate the cozy environment.
Roaming across the stage at Austin City Limits Live at the Moody Theater, Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong -- whose treatment last year for addiction derailed promotion of the band's albums "¡Uno!," "¡Dos!" and "¡Tré!" -- roared through hits such as "Holiday" and "Welcome to Paradise" as though he were aiming for the cheap seats at a cavernous enormo-dome. And he held onto his favorite arena-concert tricks, whipping out a toilet-paper gun and blasting T-shirts into the crowd from an air-powered cannon.
Musically, too, Green Day kept the scale expansive: Early in its set it played "Oh Love," from "¡Uno!," but later honored a request by reaching back to the early 1990s for "Christie Road." Armstrong rolled out some of his favorite covers as well, stitching together Guns N' Roses' "Sweet Child O' Mine" with "Highway to Hell" by AC/DC. During the latter he put on a cowboy hat passed up to him by a fan, who didn't appear concerned in the slightest with whether he'd get it back -- a small sign, perhaps, that confidence in Armstrong has been renewed.
Depeche Mode didn't have anything to live down later Friday at Brazos Hall: Judging by the reaction to the first few notes of oldies like "Enjoy the Silence" and "Personal Jesus," the capacity crowd here arrived at the concert already convinced that the veteran synth-rock band still has it.
Instead, Depeche Mode was at SXSW (where it also took part Wednesday in an onstage interview with Jason Bentley of L.A.'s KCRW-FM) to build some buzz around a new album it's releasing later this month. The group's first record since 2009, "Delta Machine" is bolder and more obtuse than what we've heard from Depeche Mode in a while; it strips away the danceable beats and lush melodies of the band's big hits. So Friday's show provided a chance to sell the fresh material onstage.
And sell it did, with frontman Dave Gahan striking a succession of the shirtless rock-god poses for which he's known. Though it was playing inside a smallish warehouse space, Depeche Mode performed in front of a billboard-sized video screen flashing images out of its library of gloom, including visuals from the band's music video for its current single, "Heaven." It also did the new album's "Soothe My Soul," but calm, of course, wasn't really what Gahan and his mates were aiming for. They were looking to excite.
Follow Mikael Wood on Twitter: @mikaelwood
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