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Devotional Era

Jesus!

Dave Gahan has reinvented himself as Michael Hutchence on Depeche Mode's world tour...

Document par Steve Malins | Vox | 1994 | 7323 caractères. Temps de lecture : 5 min 30 sec

‘When I rush / When I come up / I rush for you’ [sic] sings Dave Gahan during ‘Rush’, as he strides towards the audience, shirt discarded to reveal the phoenix and the ‘Om’ symbol tattooed on his chest. To him, they represent his own spiritual rebirth and ‘the sounds of the universe’, while the wings on his back were etched in preparation for the psyched-up nights of this world tour. No doubt he keeps them covered when he goes back to the white-knuckled conservatism of Basildon, his birthplace, but, for Gahan, they’re the marks of a new person. He’s emerged from the debris of a broken marriage and the death of a father he hardly knew to become this emotional mix of little-boy-lost and rock messiah. Consequently, there’s a lack of wit, self-knowledge or perspective in his performance at Detroit’s Pineknob stadium, as he rebounds between numbing mania and surges of real feeling.

When Gahan stretches out his arms and spreads his wings, it’s a sobering thought that tonight’s gig is only three weeks from the end of their world tour. Last night the band held a party for their road crew, signalling that the Depeche Mode convoy is already changing down a gear. For Gahan, the switch from this self-obsessed exhibition of nervous energy to life off the road will be difficult. In D. A. Pennebaker’s 1989 documentary of the band, 101, there’s a moment when the singer describes a fight he’s had with a taxi driver. ‘Letting out that energy and tension like you do on-stage, it’s not enough; you’ve still got more. That was definitely a release. I was looking for a fight for a good few days.’

It’s tempting to imagine a stocky cabbie puncturing the pseudo-babble of this gaunt, sallow-faced artist with a single swing. But for Gahan, his current battles are more emotional than physical.

Unless he lances his unstable ego and sees the joke that he’s in danger of becoming, it’s unlikely that there will be another Depeche Mode album. His fellow band members have all confessed the irritation and even contempt they’ve felt for their singer at times. Gahan himself admitted that while making Songs Of Faith And Devotion, ‘a lot of the time it was hard for them to be in the same room as me’.

None of the group attended his wedding to their former publicist, Teresa Conway, in 1992, which was conducted with garish humour at the Gracelands Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas. He wore a see-through shirt that showed off his tattoos and the witness was an Elvis look-a-like. It’s particularly difficult for keyboard player Andy Fletcher, a man of piercing common sense, to understand this born-again rock star. While Gahan immersed himself completely in gaudy rock’n’roll myths, Fletcher quietly vacated his place on the final leg of the tour (he’s been replaced by session man Daryl Bamonte) to be with his wife for the birth of their new child.

Nevertheless, Depeche Mode have gained from Gahan’s emotional hysteria. His voice has been a revelation over the past four years, changing from a pop monotone into a rich, powerful outlet for his own turmoil. Although Martin Gore denies that he has written any songs with Gahan specifically in mind, the singer’s more personal approach perfectly complements the twisted gospel and blues of their more recent albums. At tonight’s show, the frontman is chillingly direct as he blasts out ‘I Feel You’, ‘Rush’ and the healing faith of ‘Personal Jesus’.

Breathless and hollowed-out with exhaustion, Gahan’s 360-degree spins and outstretched crucifix poses are lapped up by an audience who are here to be seduced by the fantasy of a rock icon. They are noticeably impatient when faced with the minimal stage-presence of Bobby Gillespie and Primal Scream, the support act. However, when Gahan walks on-stage, one hand on his crotch and his tongue flapping like a dog on heat, the sexual charge instantly runs through them. Sex is, after all, the dominant theme of Gore’s songs, which range in mood from the tight-lipped claustrophobia of ‘Enjoy The Silence’ to the dark salvation of ‘One Caress’. Gahan’s leering performance occasionally turns into pure pantomime, but it’s a lot sexier than the other immobile figures behind their keyboards.

Eventually Gahan runs out of steam. There’s no sign of a physical let-up, as he snakes around the mic stand and bounds across to the front row. However, he looks numb and preoccupied in between bursts of melodrama. It’s understandable because of the enormous effort of will needed to satisfy a fanatical following over such a long tour. Furthermore, there’s no way back because the band’s set is built for Gahan to roam around and make his stadium-size gestures. For almost all of their world tour, the keyboard trio of Gore, Wilder and Fletcher have been elevated above the main stage, leaving the front area for the singer to dominate. Perhaps he feels insecure about his contribution to the band (Gore writes all the songs, Wilder does the bulk of the work in the studio, Fletcher handles the business), because he’s ready to scar himself with his tattoos and mind-games, rather than challenge the set-up. For all his emotional bluster, he’s been playing this Rock God fantasy out of an almost childlike desire to please both his audience and the other members of the band.

The battle-lines have been drawn, and Gahan’s territory at the front doesn’t change, even in Detroit, where a smaller stage has brought them together on the same level. Only Alan Wilder’s surly machismo and his flamboyant cross-dressing of Mad Max and cowboy chic rivals the presence of the singer. Martin Gore is less noticeable, apart from his occasional trip to the front to pick out his two-chord guitar riffs or to sing ballads such as ‘Judas’ and ‘One Caress’. This former bank clerk can’t hold the audience’s attention for long, but his brief forays into the spotlight are a striking contrast to his friend’s frantic body-jerks. Aided by this grandiose foil, Gore’s stationary performance in fetish-glam gear gives a feeling of intimacy that is perfect for the introspective chill of his lyrics.

Gore almost steals the show during these moments, but he can’t rival the soul-baring honesty of Gahan singing ‘Never Let Me Down’, a song that encapsulates his state of mind with the words ‘We’re flying high / We’re watching the world pass us by / Never want to come down / Never want to put my feet back down on the ground.’

As he claps his hands and arches back with a wild grin, he sees an astronaut beamed on to the screen behind him, one of the images created for the tour by photographer / director, Anton Corbijn. The figure looks a little fragile and alone as he floats in space like a strung out Major Tom, projecting some of the dangerous frailties of the winged-man, out on his own, below.

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