After seeing Depeche Mode in Nashville last September, I immediately started thinking about how I would write about the experience. The more I thought about it, the more I doubted I could even begin to do it justice. So I guess I’m going to try…
In previous posts, I’ve written about how much I’ve loved DM since I was a teenager in the 80s. I’ve only loved a few bands that long, but Depeche Mode is the one that I’ve always gone back to time and again for nearly 30 years. Yet until last year, I had never seen them live.
To many fans, this is crazy. There are “Devotees” who follow them around the world when they tour, have every album and single release, have met the band, pay who knows how much for VIP experiences, etc. I’ve been observing some of the fandom on social media, and that’s the general gist of what it means to be a fan, it seems. (And by the way, the DM fandom – jesus – that’s perhaps a blog post for another day. It’s – intense).
As much of a music fan that I am, I haven’t been to many concerts since college. DM generally visits cities that were a good drive away from wherever I lived, so besides ticket prices, the cost would include hotel, gas, food, etc. And let’s just say that because I spent several years in grad school and several years trying to make ends meet with teaching, funds have been limited most of the time. But besides that, when you’re concerned about swinging that car payment and figuring out how to afford to go to the doctor so you CAN go to that job every day, the thought of going to concerts and getting into that “biggest fan” loop doesn’t seem to be a priority.
For a long time, my CD copies of 101, Violator, Music for the Masses, and Black Celebration were “all I ever wanted, all I ever needed.” I know those albums through and through. They’ve helped me though many a rough patch. For so long a “Black Celebration” was the only kind I seemed to be able to muster – taking things one day at a time and finding solace in the midst of the confusion and anguish of every day life. “Waiting for the Night to Come” was often my lullaby at the end of a day that seemed to stretch me beyond my emotional limits. The songs on those albums have linked my best friend Debi and I over the course of our friendship since the mid 80s. She was with me when I bought the 12″ single of “Personal Jesus,” which I am proud to say I still own, even though I didn’t have a turntable for about 20 years.
I’ve been filling in the blanks in my DM record collection, which has convinced me all the more that their music is the soundtrack to my life. Violator, though, is the special one, not only because it’s a solid collection of songs, but also because it came out before anything really bad happened to me. So tied up in that bone-deep love are the carefree experiences of my younger years and indelible scars that altered who I might have otherwise become. I’m sure people connect with many other musicians or bands for that reason, but DM songs have that mixture of deep pain and whimsy and optimism that seem to mirror my mind.
I’m now lucky enough to have a teaching job that gives me some room to breathe financially, so I was able to swing a ticket to see Depeche in Nashville on September 18, 2017. I met my best friend there (she said she was taking a ride, but not with her best friend, to go see them). We made a side trip to Third Man Records, another mecca for me.
Because it’s how I roll, I worried a bit about the evening. The show was at an amphitheater, so I obsessively checked the forecast for a week. The venue is on a river, so I worried that it would be unbearably humid, as it was already quite hot, and mosquitos love to feast on my blood. I worried about parking, and the lines to get in, and pretty much anything else I could think of.
I needn’t have worried.
I didn’t get one mosquito bite. The lights of the Nashville skyline to the left and the lighted bridge on the right framed the stage, a light breeze kept us cool, and no one crowded us. Debi brought some stadium seat things, but I stood and danced and sang the entire time. I was lost in the moment, from the time I spotted Martin stepping onto stage (at which time I lost feeling in my entire body and my head imploded temporarily and my knees shook), to the first sight of Dave slinking up between the screens to start singing “Going Backwards.” Every song they played shook my body and soul to the core as I experienced years of memories and emotions long forgotten. I teared up during Martin’s solos (“Somebody,” “A Question of Lust,” and “Home”). A surprise was that although I hadn’t much cared for “Wrong,” it sounded so good live that I changed my mind. I’d forgotten how much a visceral experience live music is – you feel it all the more, and the fact that the human beings making the music are just in front of you – there’s no feeling like it.
Two further highlights – as when I first saw them cover David Bowie’s “Heroes” during a show early in the tour, courtesy of YouTube, I cried a little. Debi said she could feel the emotions emanating from me. I sang my heart out and felt my soul soar beyond the confines of my self, my cares, my worries.
And of course, I was honored to become part of the 30-year tradition of millions upon millions of people waving their arms to “Never Let Me Down Again.” It’s one of the first times I can remember wanting to conform, wanting to be part of a crowd, because all of those arms that have waved belong to people who share a deep connection to the more than 200 songs that Martin has written and the several that Dave his penned as well.
My pictures are above. I wish I could have been closer. I’m sure it would have been a better experience, but I reminded myself that I was damn lucky to be able to go in the first place. And I was there. With them. Writing this now, I’m verklempt all over again.
I’ve made a promise to myself to see more live music. I saw the Killers in January, and I expect to see some shows this summer when I’ll be in England for six weeks. I think I have Depeche Mode for reminding me to live again.