REVIEW: Depeche Mode & DIIV at United Center

Depeche Mode arrived in Chicago at United Center on Monday as part of their “Memento Mori” tour. Opening for them was DIIV. While Depeche Mode had played in Chicago earlier this year in April, DIIV were playing their first show in town since 2019.

DIIV is a Brooklyn band consisting of vocalist/guitarist Zachary Cole Smith, guitarist Andrew Bailey, bassist Colin Caulfield and drummer Ben Newman. Formed in 2011, the band’s sound encompasses elements such as dream pop, shoegaze and post-punk. Smith had previously played in projects Soft Black and Beach Fossils but wanted an outlet for his own material, naming the band after a Nirvana reference. DIIV’s debut album “Oshin” came out in 2012, featuring melodies and sonic textures inspired by 80’s krautrock and Malian music. Their second album “Is the Is Are” was released in 2016, taking DIIV’s sound into different pop-oriented directions. The band’s third and most recent album “Deceiver” arrived in 2019 – the first with their current bassist – containing noticeably more elements of shoegaze and grunge. DIIV’s run has been marred by instances of personal hardships between its members, but such tumultuous times have influenced prominent themes of humanity and catharsis on their records.

The band played a half-hour set on Monday. It was seven songs – four from “Deceiver”, two from “Is the Is Are” and one from “Oshin.” DIIV’s excited, spirited dynamic on stage showed through as they shredded through each song, accompanied by vibrant light displays that kept with the pace.

Depeche Mode is vocalist Dave Gahan and guitarist/vocalist/keyboardist Martin Gore, with bassist/keyboardist Peter Gordeno and drummer Christian Eigner as touring members. The British electronic rock/synthpop band formed in 1980 at the height of new wave music’s breakout and is one of that genre’s most influential acts of all-time. Originally known as Composition of Sound, they quickly changed their name to Depeche Mode, which was taken from a mispronunciation of a French fashion magazine. Founding member Vince Clarke wrote most of the material on their 1981 debut album “Speak & Spell”, containing the hit single “Just Can’t Get Enough.” He left the band following the record’s release, however, and guitarist Martin Gore subsequently stepped up as Depeche Mode’s primary songwriter.

The band’s sophomore record “A Broken Frame” came out in 1982 – their first with longtime keyboardist Alan Wilder. Depeche Mode went on to release “Construction Time Again” in 1983, “Some Great Reward” in 1984 (containing the song “People Are People” which became one of their first hits in the US as well as a popular LGBTQ+ anthem), “Black Celebration” in 1986 and “Music for the Masses” in 1987. Their commercial breakthrough album “Violator followed in 1989, featuring some of their most well-known songs to this day (“Enjoy the Silence, “Policy of Truth”, “Personal Jesus”). 1993 saw the release of Depeche Mode’s album “Songs of Faith and Devotion”, which took them on the largest worldwide tour they would ever embark on. Personal issues took hold of the band’s members for a couple years after this point, with Alan Wilder leaving the band in 1995; Peter Gordeno and Christian Eigner would join the band as touring members in his place. “Ultra”, Depeche Mode’s ninth record, came out in 1997; “Exciter” followed in 2001, then “Playing the Angel” in 2005, “Sounds of the Universe” in 2009, “Delta Machine” in 2013 and “Spirit” in 2017. Founding member and keyboardist Andy Fletcher passed away in 2022; Depeche Mode’s latest album “Memento Mori” – which they are currently on tour supporting – was released earlier this year in March, prevalently dealing with themes of death, mortality and conscience.

Depeche Mode’s set was an even mix of fresh “Memento Mori” material and many of their hits from the 80s and 90s. Among the ones they played were “It’s No Good”, “Walking in My Shoes”, “Policy of Truth”, “Everything Counts”, “I Feel You” and “Stripped.” Dave Gahan exited the stage as Martin Gore took the lead vocals on songs “Dressed in Black” and “Home.” They dedicated “World In My Eyes” to Andy Fletcher, closing their main set with “Enjoy the Silence.” After the crowd roared for an encore, Depeche Mode returned to the stage with an acoustic rendition of “Condemnation” followed by “Just Can’t Get Enough”, “Never Let Me Down Again” and “Personal Jesus.”

The band brought so much effervescence to United Center on Monday. Dave Gahan is a spectacularly exuberant frontman; his signature move is to spin like a top with his arms out, usually either as songs begin or go into instrumental breakdown. He also frequently shouts exclamations out to the crowd, jubilantly prances around the stage, commands the energy with conductor-like arm movements, and will bust out his fancy footwork while facing his bandmates as they do their thing. Gahan and Martin Gore also went out onto the stage’s catwalk at several points throughout the night, getting up close and personal with the audience. The whole experience felt both electrifying and down-to-earth.

Seeing Depeche Mode was something I didn’t realize was on my bucket list until I saw that they were coming to Chicago a few months ago. I loved them back in high school; I have a vivid memory of hearing “Policy of Truth” for the first time on WXRT when I woke up early one morning, racing over to our desktop computer to look the song up on the station’s website because I simply had to know what it was (before the days of Shazam). They, Tears for Fears and New Order were my foray into synthpop and 80’s new wave music. I hadn’t listened to Depeche Mode much in recent years but when I saw they were playing at United Center, it ignited this enthusiasm to not miss the chance to see a band I was into back in the day no matter how long it’s been – and Monday did not disappoint. It also reminded me how great DIIV is; it was rad getting to see them too.

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