The last few weeks have been fairly historic ones for the Hollywood Bowl, for better and worse. In late September, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers played an acclaimed 40th anniversary three-night run at the venue. The shows turned out, sadly, to be Petty's last.
But on Thursday night, Depeche Mode notched a new entry into the venue's record books. The electro-rock trio played the first of four largely sold-out nights at the Bowl (that's around 70,000 tickets). It's the longest consecutive stand for an act in the venue's history.
And it's no coincidence that Depeche Mode was the band to do it. L.A. gets a well-deserved reputation as a Morrissey town. If the Smiths ever got back together — a perpetual long-shot — that band could probably beat this record.
But after Thursday's heavy, romantic and career-spanning set, it's fair to say that for right now, L.A. is Depeche Mode City.
The English trio has always held L.A. in special regard. The band played its landmark "Concert For the Masses" at the Rose Bowl in 1988 (a documentary on that show screened at the site this year).
In April, Depeche Mode played a last-minute set at the tiny Masonic Lodge at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. The band's must-see concerts always seem to happen here, and Thursday's (with a haunting, career-highlight opening set from local quartet Warpaint) was no exception.
At the Bowl, the canonical Depeche Mode hits — "Enjoy the Silence," "Everything Counts" — felt especially at home. L.A. has always been a city where loneliness and desperate longing run headlong into an impersonal grid of freeways and skyscrapers.
The city is kind of Depeche Mode-ish at its core, and the blend of writer-guitarist Martin Gore's heartsick leads and the group's disciplined techno throb is some of the best L.A. driving music there is.
Singer Dave Gahan, at 55 and still lithe in his shirtless vest, shellacked-on pants and heavy eyeliner combo, remains one of the great frontmen of his era. His stern baritone is Depeche Mode's backbone. His decades of touring have hardened it into kind of an S&M weapon used to his audience's delight.
And, rare for such an established act like this, the brand-new material landed as hard as those ageless hits.
From the acidic churn of "Going Backwards," to the krautrock clang of "So Much Love" and the cosmic mist of "Cover Me," the selections from the band's latest album "Spirit" were some of the night's most inventive and affecting.
The echoes of David Bowie on "Cover Me," from the spaceman-themed visuals to Gahan's skyward moans, were intentionally allusive. Depeche Mode covered Bowie's "Heroes" in its encore, and while everyone has been in a rush to tackle Bowie, Prince and Petty as they left Earth, few bands know Bowie in its bones like Depeche Mode.
That's because Depeche Mode has a ballad side that's just as crucial. Gore's earnest moments at the microphone are always fan favorites. "Question of Lust" is one of the softest, sweetest tunes in its catalog, yet still elicited spontaneous chants of "Martin ... Gore!" from the Bowl faithful. That emotional bloodletting is probably what packs four nights here. L.A. loves a crooner. Always has and always will.
But then, by the time the band wrapped with a bluesy, swaggering take on the timeless single "Personal Jesus," it was whipping the crowd back into obedience. And they've all got three more nights to come back for more.
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Where: Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., L.A.
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Monday and Wednesday
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