DALLAS In an era when anyone with a YouTube account can achieve fame, it’s easy to forget what actual rock star charisma looks like.
And there it was Friday night at Gexa Energy Pavilion, twirling, grinning and grinding its hips in the form of Dave Gahan, magnetic frontman for English synth-pop icons Depeche Mode.
The core trio — Gahan, Martin Gore and Andy Fletcher (who were augmented by a touring drummer and keyboardist) — has held firm for over 30 years, and even apart from Gahan’s formidable, sexually charged presence, its brooding songs have aged incredibly well.
Touring behind its 13th studio album, Delta Machine (released earlier this year), Depeche Mode’s two-hour set was a seamless, satisfying blend of old and new.
Opening with the first track from Delta Machine, the appropriately titled Welcome to My World, it wasn’t long before DM was roaming freely through its stylish back catalog, airing out staples like 1986’s Black Celebration, 1990’s Policy of Truth and 1993’s Walking in My Shoes.
Musically, the quintet on stage was locked in from the opening moments, and the 51-year-old Gahan was in shockingly good voice (shockingly only in that someone who has weathered heroin abuse, suicide attempts and a heart attack should probably seem a little worse for wear).
Gahan’s oily baritone is the firm anchor for Depeche Mode’s sleek, rhythmic songs, which came across more nuanced and vibrant than might be expected in a live setting.
Of course, the classic singles — Personal Jesus and Enjoy the Silence — elicited the strongest reactions from the near-capacity crowd, but then again, nearly every cut over the course of the two-hour show was greeted with appreciative roars (Gore’s solo turns at the microphone, for When the Body Speaks and But Not Tonight, were, put charitably, less than electric).
Perhaps what was most striking about Depeche Mode’s performance, apart from its impressive array of constantly moving lights and fragmented video screens, was witnessing the seeds of what became the electronic dance music (or EDM) movement that’s re-shaping pop music now. The modern sub-genre is built upon largely anonymous artists, manipulating digital sounds and practically bleeding all the humanity right out of the music.
Depeche Mode, in that regard, manages to walk a fine line between man and machine, finding the beating heart beneath even the iciest synthesizer lines.
It’s bittersweet to watch Gahan, who appeared to be having a total ball on stage, and know he’s sort of the last of the Mohicans. It is possible to render sinister, sensual songs with a sense of playfulness, as Depeche Mode repeatedly demonstrated Friday, but good luck finding that among the acts coming up now.
Indeed, today’s synth- or electro- or whatever you want to call them-pop acts prefer to operate like the evening’s opener, Crystal Castles. Thick, dense walls of sound, with murky vocals from Alice Glass and an abrupt end, stalking off the stage in near-total darkness without a word of farewell. It was technically proficient, but utterly sterile. Would that the Canadian band learn from the headliners, that a little humanity goes a long way.