There is little more incongruous than the sight of well-scrubbed, wide-eyed high schoolers at a Depeche Mode concert, singing along to the dark, solemn strains of songs such as "Black Celebration" and "Nothing."
Yet Depeche Mode's obsession with 'cause-tomorrow-we-die fatalism has struck a chord with middle-class teens, who turned out in droves Friday for the first of two sold-out shows at the Forum.
The Wild, the Innocent and the D. Mode Death Dance?
Death dance is as good a description as you'll find for songwriter Martin Gore's bleak themes and the moody, minor-key Germanic sound sculptures created by Gore and band mates Andrew Fletcher and Alan Wilder, who stood virtually passionless behind their keyboards.
And there's a blatant, although cartoonish, wild side in the rock-star prances, microphone-stand twirls and pelvic thrusts that singer David Gahan employed while mordantly intoning such lines as "I give in to sin, because you have to make this life livable."
But it's the innocence of those attracted to the band that is the most fascinating part of Depeche Mode's popularity.
"The music's about life," insisted one fan, going so far as to profess that the song "Fly on the Windscreen" (which wasn't performed Friday) is about a bug surviving in the midst of destruction, rather than the squashed bug metaphor of humanity's fate that the lyrics seem to spell out rather plainly.
"The songs say there's a chance," she said. "It's not all gloomy."
Don't think that these fans aren't really listening to the lyrics, though. The very fact that the songs present something to digest seems a key element in the band's fame.
Even though the conclusions some fans reach about the songs ring of youthful naivete, the observations reflect a point that was borne out in the band's set.
There is a life-affirming quality to many of Depeche Mode's songs, especially the likes of "Question of Lust," a ballad of vulnerability and hope sung movingly by Gore (attired in leather pants and a leather-and-chains bondage halter) as an encore. And, even while Gahan strutted and thrusted right over the varied, often subtle emotions contained in many other songs, a sense of optimism and tenderness came through.
The appeal of Depeche Mode to these young innocents isn't really much different than that of James Dean's "Rebel Without a Cause" character, representing the stage of life at which one yearns to be worldly, but lacks the emotional tools to deal with the world. That conflict itself is a subject of many of Gore's songs.
So, is the attraction of teens and young adults to the dark themes something for parents to worry about?
Not at all. The fact that so many at this show seemed able to grasp the positive messages behind the bleakness is a very good sign indeed. Let's hear it for innocence.