ACL Live Shot (Second Weekend): Depeche Mode

Staring down the synth void

I wasn’t a teenager in the mid-Eighties, nor do I have a fashionable coke habit. Both those things meant I was going into Depeche Mode’s second ACL Fest co-headlining set Friday somewhat handicapped.

I know the hits, of course. And I’ve watched my mom dance to “Just Can’t Get Enough” countless times. Yet what surprised me the most about Depeche Mode live – and coming just after a brief downpour – was the veteran UK trio’s darkness. They snuff out lights, erase the world, and make you feel very, very alone.

Monolithic synth buzz and angry guitar gurgles frame frontman Dave Gahan’s bloodless voice. Something about “Enjoy The Silence” brings you face-to-face with the void. A certain uncertainty that everything you are will eventually be forgotten.

There’s only a finite number of things you can comfort yourself with, but every once in a while you’re left twisting in the wind. For all their vogue art-pop machinations, Depeche Mode never break their gaze. When the lights come back up, we’re cheering. The rain has blown away and Gahan hams it up some more. I’m surrounded by thousands of people and I’m alive.

Afterward, I get in the car, kiss my girlfriend, and we get some barbecue. It’s best not to focus on the ugly truths even if sometimes that’s a terror worth revisiting. Depeche Mode understands that.

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