Seeing a Favorite Band For (Probably) the Last Time
Last night I went to see Depeche Mode in Cleveland, accompanied by friends of mine with whom I had not-so-coincidentally seen the band with in 1988. One of our number had earlier in the year suggested seeing the band as again as a bit of a mini-reunion, and, well, why not. The show was very good, with all the spectacle one (at this point) expects from Depeche Mode, and they played a good mix of “imperial era” hits and interesting later songs, including a couple from their latest album, the aptly named Momento Mori. A good time was had by all, or at least by me and my friends.
It also occurred to me (later, once the concert was done and I was back in my hotel room) that this was also likely the last time I would ever see Depeche Mode live. One reason is practical: They’re an arena-sized band, and generally speaking, I don’t go to see many arena-sized concerts anymore; I prefer to be able to sit for my concerts these days, and to have reasonably good acoustics (although I will admit the science of arena acoustics have gotten a lot better since I was a kid; it’s no longer just a messy wall of sound). Theaters, or at most a small outside shed, are my preference these days.
The other reason is more existential: Depeche Mode are 40 years into their career, and down to two members, the third member, Andy Fletcher, having passed in 2022 from a sudden aortic dissection. When he died, it was an open question whether Dave Gahan and Martin Gore, the other two members of the group, would continue on; Fletcher was widely known to be peacemaker and glue of the group, while Gahan and Gore were the more mercurial creatives. Moreover, Gahan had been grousing in the last few years about the fact that doing the Depeche Mode thing was a real hassle at this point in their lives — a world tour sounds sexy and exciting when you’re young, but when you’re in your late 50s and early 60s, it’s a bit of a drag, expensive to mount and disruptive of your whole life (and now you know why U2 is doing a big long residency in Vegas; if nothing else, it’s all in one place).
Gore and Gahan have apparently had a bit of a reapproachment and reimagining of their relationship to each other and their band, which as a Depeche Mode fan of long standing I find both heartening but also, realistically, something one can’t necessarily rely on moving forward. This concert tour is a bit of triumph over adversity, and the band might decide to end on this high note. Or the two remaining members might let everything drop because they’re financially set for life, pursuing their own separate interests and letting Depeche Mode fade out of benign neglect. They might get on each other’s nerves again. Or, bluntly, as they are both in their sixties now, and have led very rock n’ roll lives, one of them might die. Seeing as Gore is the band’s principal songwriter and Gahan the principal singer, it’s hard to see how Depeche Mode survives the death or departure of the either.
Or, you know, they could be just fine and keep releasing albums and touring for the next decade or more, in which case the problem is likely to be me; I could die, or, less dramatically and as previously noted, just decide not to subject myself to the sort of arena setting the band is fortunate enough to perform in. Depeche Mode, I assure you, will not miss me if I don’t show up to the show; last night’s concert was packed. They have enough fans to scrape by for as long as they can and will go on the road.
For whatever reason, it seems likely to me that last night was the last time I will see the band in a live setting. If that’s the case, Depeche Mode won’t be alone in this: There are any number of bands I grew up with who (provided they are an ongoing concern) are now either setting up their “farewell” tours, or will likely be planning to in the nearish future, or who are discovering that the hassle isn’t worth it, or that the audience necessary to tour without running into the red is no longer there. And speaking personally, I’m choosier about what I get out of the house for and in what setting, not to mention that, living in the boonies as I do, going to see any band or musician of any stature takes planning — the last several concerts I’ve seen have required travel to some degree or another. That takes effort and coordination and scheduling, and as someone who travels and tours myself (I am writing this at DFW, on the way to Austin and the Texas Book Festival), this can be trickier than it used to be.
If indeed this is the last time I will see Depeche Mode live, at the very least it was an excellent concert, in the company of good friends. There are worse ways to say goodbye. That said, my friends noted that the last time we saw Depeche Mode together was 35 years ago, and in the extremely unlikely event the band is still touring in another 35 years, we should consider seeing them again. And, well, you know what? If Gore and Gahan, by then in their mid 90s, show up, I at a relatively spry 89 would certainly consider it. Hopefully not in an arena.