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Depeche Mode's Gahan reveals his soul-rock side

August 27, 2003|Steve Hochman | Special to The Times

It wasn't exactly a wholesale change of mode at the Wiltern on Monday. But after more than 20 years singing songs he didn't write as the frontman of English electro-gloom standard-setter Depeche Mode, David Gahan seemed eager to show that he'd long had something inside trying to get out.

Who would have figured, though, that it would be a soul-rock love man?

There he was, prancing around bare-chested, wiggling his tush, twirling and posing like a tattooed, bony combination of Mick Jagger and Tom Jones, with a dash of Robbie Williams sass. And behind him was not electronic backing, but an actual rock band.

It made for a few incongruous moments, both on songs from Gahan's solo debut album "Paper Monsters" (much addressing, directly or otherwise, of Gahan's arduous rehabilitation from addiction) and on old material.

Leading the manic fans in a sing-along on the lines "You always need me more than I need you," for example, seemed a backward message to engage in with one's devoted following.

But otherwise the transformations were effective. Where the new album is somewhat turgid, bluesy undercurrents were brought to the fore thanks to the band, fronted by the dirty guitar of Knox Chandler and featuring the booming bass of Martyn LeNoble (ex-Porno for Pyros).

A handful of Depeche songs worked quite well in the rock-band setting, "Personal Jesus" getting the full-on Chicago blues treatment the original hinted at. To cap it off, a stripped-down, folksy encore of "Enjoy the Silence," with its yearning romanticism and the audience taking over most of the vocals, almost seemed like the blueprint for the anguished emo of Dashboard Confessional.

For anyone longing for the Mode mode, there was a healthy dose, courtesy of opening act Kenna, whose impressive set carried a lot of D.M. influence. But the lanky, Ethiopia-born, Cincinnati-raised singer, whose debut album "New Sacred Cow" was produced by childhood friend Chad Hugo of N.E.R.D., mixed in a variety of pop and soul angles with a lot of personality. An artist worth watching.

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