Not Just the Ticket — #75, Depeche Mode, November 20, 1993

Depeche Mode, the Forum

Then-current album: Songs of Faith and Devotion

Opening act: The The

Back of ticket ad: nothing. How nice, really.

A different ticket color scheme! At last a change! Though this was just for this show and I think it was something picked up at the box office at the Forum itself, as I’ll explain later. Still, I’ll take it just to break up the visual monotony.

So, the biggest band in terms of LA shows in 1993. Hands down.

1993 seemed to be about grunge hangover on the face of it and probably still is in the general memory, at least in terms of rock or alternative or what have you. (In terms of the general music culture, it was probably much more about the run up to Snoop’s debut album than anything else.) Nirvana’s final US tour included a stop at the Forum, while Pearl Jam, then starting to ratchet up their anti-Ticketmaster rhetoric with equivalent action, played their area show that fall out in the Inland Empire or beyond, I forget where, and got their own huge crowd.

But then Depeche Mode announced their shows for the Songs of Faith and Devotion tour and sold out five nights at the Forum almost immediately, and probably could have played more if they hadn’t already had the rest of the tour booked to continue further. So much for Seattle ruling everything.

Of course, that was always a stereotype, and Los Angeles and Depeche were their own self-contained loop of positive reinforcement. (Kinda.) The odd thing about this show was just thinking how much three years had seemed to change so much about…everything? Not really true but I can’t but think how vast the divide was between that Dodger Stadium show from 1990, the ultimate world-conquering ‘you can’t ignore us now, people’ mark of success, and the Forum shows – less so in terms of amount of people performed for or even the change in location, more simply because of the sense of reset expectations, old versus new, generational divides…it was all as if all the rhetoric about what was ‘new’ suddenly actually was put into sharp relief.

Part of it was of course sartorial. When the first pictures of Dave Gahan emerged earlier in the year in the run up to the release of the album I think actually laughed out loud. Now, far be it from me to tell someone how to wear their hair and all, but some people look much, much better with short hair, and Gahan’s one of them. With the long hair and the beard and the general appearance of a scrubbed up Al Jourgensen…no. Very bad idea, very VERY bad idea.

But then there was a lot of talk about how Depeche had gone grunge in general and I was all “Hmm…I have to doubt that.” Years upon years later it’s much easier to see the album as what it is, yet another example of Depeche looking around at what was around and going, “Hmm, why not this?” Of course, it was also the most fractured album they’d yet made, the whole thing is and remains a stitch-up job and everyone admits it now. But what matters most is the end result, and said end-result’s a stunner at its best, a huge gothic sprawl of an album that sounds monumental as hell. If it’s Depeche wanting to rock it’s also Depeche doing things most rock bands in their position wouldn’t be able to do (certainly not when it came to bass, rhythms, Alan Wilder’s arrangements, I could go on).

Then again this is me wearing my music critic hat as well as my slavering Depeche fan hat – at the time I just remember thinking “Whoa…but it’s good! I love it!” And as the months passed in the buildup to seeing them again I just waited patiently and played the album into the ground. If things didn’t feel as honestly huge and anticipatory for me as it did three years ago, well, changes had a lot to do with it – from undergrad to grad life, a new location, a lot more experienced, different foci coming to the fore, a classic example of quick acceleration. And hell, I was still only twenty-two years old so there was much more to come, and my own ideas about things were as chaotically formed as they ever were.

The slight bonus this time came courtesy of how I got into the show – the opening band, at least for this leg of the tour, was The The, who I’d just seen some months prior at the KROQ Weenie Roast. This meant another Sony connection and once again Jen V. was able to finesse a seat. (I admit I never ever minded this.) It wasn’t the best per se but I didn’t need that, I just wanted to get in there, and I knew it had to be at least somewhat better than the up-and-away Dodger Stadium location I’d been in three years prior.

No big memories of getting up to the show and/or stopping at the Sony offices or anything though I assume we did – for me part of the attraction of the evening was going to see a show at the Forum for the first time ever. There had been shows I could have easily seen there that caught my interest – Morrissey’s first solo show in LA two years previous had been there, and I can only imagine what that was like, especially since Bowie joined him on a T. Rex cover. But otherwise it’d just been this building I heard about, and given I wasn’t much of a basketball fan I had no deep feelings about the Lakers or anything. I’d seen it from a distance a few times, though, and had hung about in the parking lot en route to the Tin Machine promo show at LAX, so finally ending up in the building itself was just one of those things I had to do at some point – and why not Depeche as the reason for the first time visit?

So seeing the scope of the place was a treat – I’d been in relatively few enclosed sports arenas like it over time, so it was a bit of a novelty to me still, and I ended up perched in a seat to the side of the stage about a quarter of the way along from it, an angled view but not a bad one. No memory of seatmates or others to chat with around me, just fellow fans. Jen must have been elsewhere doing what work needed doing – at least I think!

The The’s set was at best tepidly received but I did find it a curious mismatch; for all that Matt Johnson and Depeche had started out around the same time in the UK they were hardly the type of acts normally grouped together, unless you stretched and allowed for Johnny Marr’s appearance in The The prior to joining Electronic, who had done the honors back in 1990. Again, a stretch. Compared to the Weenie Roast show there was only one song rather than two that stood out, and again it was “Love is Stronger Than Death,” though lacking that slightly spooked edge from the outdoor surroundings and almost headlining spot on the bill that June evening. Here it was just, well, an opening act’s number.

Depeche’s show that evening – not specifically, but in terms of basic set list, staging and more – is preserved on the Devotional film, which is well worth watching to see what Anton Corbijn was up to then. The whole design of the set, how it was filmed, everything was this amazingly over-saturated and shadowed and red-light-heavy experience, and if the film intensifies it my own experience watching it was still one of feeling a bit overwhelmed, in the best way. Hearing the low electronic growls and thunder effects on “Higher Love” as the place went dark, seeing only the shadows of the band being projected onto the curtains as they performed, made for fantastic theater in any sense.

Of course talking about that whole time now is suffused with the knowledge of just how badly the entire band was suffering through what was the tour that apparently broke everybody involved – Gahan’s near complete drug addiction, Martin Gore’s increasing drinking, Andrew Fletcher on the road to a nervous breakdown, Alan Wilder becoming disenchanted with everything and starting to look towards his departure from the group. And that’s just the bandmembers; apparently most of the support crew had their own issues.

Importantly, of course, none of us saw that or could see that, the whole point in any live show – especially one of this size – is how much the gulf between ‘reality’ and what’s being seen/heard is at any time, and this was not a show of running confessions about how fucked up everyone was becoming. It was about Gahan whipping the crowd up, about all those amazing songs by Gore getting sung along with note for note – everything I’d experienced at the Dodger Stadium show but here somehow intensified and certainly moodier, possibly because of the enclosed space, possibly due to the staging as mentioned, who can say? Maybe that’s what was meant by them going ‘grunge’ given how heavily the storm clouds were gathering over those seen to be leading the way there over the next few months.

So even if there wasn’t anything as moving and amazing as Gore singing “Here is the House” with everyone singing along, it was still Depeche and I was still very glad to be there. But yeah, Dave really should have chopped off that hair. All the sweat made it look really awful by the end.