Not Just the Ticket — #5, Depeche Mode, August 5, 1990

Depeche Mode, Dodger Stadium

Then-current album: Violator

Opening acts: Electronic and Nitzer Ebb

Back of ticket ad: a coupon for a three-piece combo at El Pollo Loco for $2.99. Clearly I didn’t find this tempting.

Ragged on the edges, faded heavy type, little tears here and there — a ticket that went through a few things on the night, I guess. But I don’t have to wonder what it all sounded like that evening, I’m listening to it right now.

I’ve had this bootleg for a while, listened to it a few times, so it didn’t sneak up on me the way that New Order recording did. Hearing a recording, any recording of a show that you were at inevitably changes the context of how you remember it — the sound mix is often radically different, often just depending on whoever taped the show was standing or where they’d set up their mike. I don’t know if it was ever quite so clear on the night, except at one key point, but it sounds pretty clear here, a great audience recording that has some crowd noise right nearby but not so near as to irritate, instead sounding like just one might expect, the reactions of people around you as the songs and exhortations and more go on.

It’s also good to have this bootleg because, somewhat notoriously in the obsessive fandom for Depeche, this is about the only tour since the late eighties not to have had some sort of formal film or live album or DVD or all three released in accompaniment with it. There’s even been comments on the official page about how supposedly there might be a French broadcast film somewhere out there, while a clip of the Anton Corbijn film done for the performance of “Personal Jesus” on the tour also surfaced on the site, but otherwise, out of sight, out of mind — if there’s a full sound mix or film mix or anything of this tour it’s lost somewhere in someone’s archive.

Oh and yes I should mention that this was DEPECHE MODE playing at DODGER STADIUM with something like 75,000 PEOPLE OR MORE while on tour for VIOLATOR and they even got ELECTRONIC which consisted of BERNARD SUMNER OF NEW ORDER and JOHNNY MARR OF THE SMITHS and THE PET SHOP BOYS as guests just to be the OPENING ACT because it was freaking DEPECHE MODE IN THE SUMMER OF 1990 WHEN THEY OWNED THE GODDAMN UNIVERSE HOLY FUCK!

So, yes, I have some memories.

When the remasters came out for Depeche a couple of years back with the DVD documentary films, the one for Violator started the only way it could — with a collage of the news reports in LA on the day that what was supposed to just be a promo signing for Violator‘s release became a full-on, honest to god riot and police action. Here, really, I’m not kidding:

I just remember turning on one of those broadcasts that night and whichever newscaster it was saying “The band…De-pe-chee Mode…” said very, very unsurely. One got the sense that he had never, ever heard of them before, couldn’t understand what the hell had happened, why any of this had occurred, and why he had to talk about it. Well, he knew why he had to talk about it, but one got a sense that his equilibrium had been utterly disturbed.

Me, I was probably cackling quite a lot. It was such a beautiful moment.

Honestly, there was this sense of atmosphere in the air around LA when it came to Depeche that I don’t think I’ve ever felt anywhere since, though there must surely be equivalents and comparison points galore for other people, other bands, other places, other memories. But I was there, I was at a good age for it and it was…Depeche. I’ve already mentioned the somewhat bizarre experience of thinking that everyone on my dorm floor a couple of years before must have gone to the 101 Rose Bowl show, something I just missed getting it together to go to while still down in the San Diego area. I knew who they were, of course, and that year I finally started to scarf up all the albums, so by the time “Personal Jesus” came out in the fall of 1989…

Impressions, impressions. The endless, obsessive playing of that song on KROQ in particular. Of “Dangerous,” the B-side, because that started to get some spillover attention. Of the acoustic version of “Personal Jesus” because it could provide further variety while still being Depeche and that song. This wasn’t just me, this was in the air, on the air, everywhere one seemed to look and listen. Then the MTV airplay really kicked in, and then after a little while “Enjoy the Silence” came out and…

Somewhere around this time is when the riots happened for the signing, and the tickets were announced. Rose Bowl down last time, Dodger Stadium this time. For the first time I found myself in a line waiting for tickets — the announcements had been made in the papers, on the air, the word was out. I went with my friend Kirsten and at least a couple of other folks, all of us planning on buying as many tickets as we could for all our group planning on going, however many it was. I can’t remember, there were a lot of us. There was a lot of everyone else too.

We stood out in the parking lot of the nearest Wherehouse (at least I guess it was a Wherehouse, maybe it was a Tower?) to UCLA, it was a Saturday, no classes, but we’d hauled ourselves far too early — pretty sure that might well have been the first time I fueled up on both coffee and donuts instead of just the latter — and got down there. Well of course there was a line, every place in the basin that was offering tickets had a similar scene in front of it. Again, not a new feeling, not the first time, not the last, but one had a sense that the nation was out there, that everyone was wired and ready to go.

I forget the group draw for the line, I seem to remember some sort of number lottery thing. We got in and we were able to get a batch together for us, and then on the way back to the apartment I remember Kirsten playing “Any Second Now,” one of the band’s earliest songs, on her car tape player, quietly lost in its gentle, instrumental beauty. We later hear that Dodger Stadium has fully sold out…twice. In fact a third show was later added to the Universal Ampitheatre, and I remember being really, really jealous of everyone who would get to see that much more smaller in comparison affair.

It’s summer of 1990 now and I seem to remember that weekend feeling…weird. In a good way. I suddenly recall standing out on the balcony of the apartment the day before the show — the weather was strange, the world was unsettled (more about that shortly), things felt anticipatory and wonderful and weird. It was the biggest show I had ever seen until then, it featured a band I was fully committed and in for, the opening acts were both favorites too, life was strange, life was great. I was nineteen, I was loving it, loving it, LOVING it.

I next recall the parking lot and the stadium sitting in the distance — not the first baseball stadium I’d been to but somehow all the much more looming and mysterious in the long summer sunset haze. Our group parked and walked and walked, endless amounts of bootleg shirts were offered for sale, we slowly made our way up and up to our seats. High, high above right field, looking down at the stage at dizzying angles, partially obscured by the stage’s superstructure.

We missed Nitzer Ebb but Electronic had put on a good set, though the better part of a year out from the release of the album meant that I only knew “Getting Away From It” from said set, and that it was great to see Sumner, Marr and the Pet Shop Boys all on stage at once.

Things turned even more dreamlike after that for me, and still feel that way. The world was unsettled because Iraq had just invaded Kuwait a few days before — and when you think about everything and anything that has happened since then, that event that occurred when the Cold War still had a year-plus to run but nobody knew it would end as it did, then the fact that everything suddenly seemed all the more unsure than before was all that much more of a strange harbringer. A romantic view in a perverse sense, but I felt in that packed stadium of increasing intensity and excitement a strange floating distance, heightened by where we were in the stadium, hanging in space and watching the shadows lengthen.

And watching the clouds come in. People had talked to me with amazed wonder about the 101 show because during the show it had done something that doesn’t really happen in LA at all during late spring to mid-fall — it had rained. Out of nowhere, a burst of rain during that show, seemingly timed to arrive and depart at crucial moments. That night in Dodger Stadium I saw another batch of clouds come, appearing over the edge of the stadium’s curve…and I started to feel the rain. I was now even more swept away on visions of romantic grandeur, it seemed that Depeche brought the rain.

The thunder and the lightning followed. Really.

I couldn’t believe that. I still can’t but by god, there it was, and we were all pretty astounded too. It wasn’t constant but it was often, and the way that the stadium curve framed it, if you were looking straight at the stage, right behind it would be clouds in a rapidly darkening sky, the wet smack of rain, then thunder, then lightning and thunder. At one point two bolts went off almost simultaneously, and it almost seemed to frame the stage in the distance from our angle at least. The screams for that from the audience, of thrilled delight and a tinge of fear.

All that was needed was four guys from England to stroll on to stage and start playing a few songs.

Again, I’m listening to the bootleg now, from that specific night, that specific show. Everything they did, there it is, clear sound and all. But that’s not how I felt it or remembered it, no, there I was hanging high in the sky on seats that seemed to float, and down below were lights and images, keyboards and tiny figures, Dave Gahan running around and getting everyone going…

Because of the rain, not drenching but present enough, I remember more than once the amusing sight of a batch of roadies dashing out between songs with towels, rapidly mopping up water in swirling motions from the stage floor and then just as quickly disappearing again. I remember Kirsten letting out a cheer and a thrilled wail more than once. I remember looking around me and noticing that our bunch, mostly white or Asian in background, seemed to be smack dab in the middle of a huge crowd of Iranians, which I thought was pretty cool. (In the just released film The Posters Came From the Walls, a story about obsessive Depeche fandom across the world and across the decades, there’s a story about actual Depeche fans in Iran getting harassed for the way they dressed. Depeche owns the world, even those who hate them have to react to them. I could go on. I already have been, this is just one show, just the first.)

I can hear, I am hearing, the performances on the night, but I do remember how all the songs from Violator sounded great, how powerful “Never Let Me Down Again” was, how the concluding “Behind the Wheel/Route 66” killed — even as Gahan sounds a bit ragged at points on the recording, I didn’t remember that, I didn’t need to remember that, didn’t want to, really. It’s not that I remember it being a perfect performance, I just remembered it being something else, a live-wire monumentalism on all fronts.

I also remember something that this recording just doesn’t capture at all. It captures the performance, but not the key part of it.

For the longest time in the world of Depeche tours, there’s been something of a mid-show tradition where Martin Gore steps out from being the backing singer and performer and takes a turn on lead vocals. In this case, it was just him and an acoustic guitar while the rest of the band took whatever kind of break suited them. He played two songs a night, altering it up as he chose.

The second song this night was from Violator, “Sweetest Perfection,” but the first was a touch more obscure — “Here is the House,” a song from the second half of the Black Celebration album, never released as a single or even a B-side or anything like that. If you knew the song, you had to know it because you sought it out, you had the album, you’d played it a lot — you didn’t just have or had only heard the singles. It’s a really lovely song, a favorite of mine, a bit of gentle energy and yearning and desire amid the extremely bleak grinddown of that album’s second half. (And don’t get me wrong, I like that grinddown. A LOT.) But again, only those who really took the time to get into Depeche would know it.

It was probably on the second verse that I realized something, and I had to look around me to confirm it, and I couldn’t look around the whole stadium to confirm it on the broadest scale but I sure as hell knew that my ears weren’t lying.

Martin Gore was quietly singing and playing a deep album cut from an album that was four years old at that point…and the ENTIRE stadium, that group of 75,000 or however many people it was in the end, was singing along.

This bootleg recording couldn’t capture that, but the biggest IMAX screen with the ultimate sound mix couldn’t, I think. Memory will have to do.

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