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Mass-appeal mode for Depeche Mode

April 28, 2006|Geoff Boucher | Times Staff Writer

Martin Gore of Depeche Mode has some advice for the band's fervent L.A. fans who plan to trek out to the Coachella Music and Arts Festival to see the group's headlining set on Saturday: "For this," he said with a chuckle, "it might be a good time to leave the black clothes at home."

The reason is the thermometer: Temperatures in the high 90s are expected over the weekend for the seventh edition of the premier Southern California festival. Gore and his mates don't take the main stage until 9:30 p.m., when it will be dark and cool, but he'd hate to see the group's black-clad faithful woozy with sunstroke by then.

If the crowd in Indio does look to be in a bit of a swoon, it might just be from that old Depeche Mode magic at work again in the Southland. There are few acts that have connected with the region's concert market as long and as well as the dour British rock group. There are Depeche Mode conventions that draw thousands of people, and when the band comes through town -- as it did with three arena dates in November -- it draws well and plays to intense cheers.

That may be a bit different at Coachella, where Mode joins a deep and eclectic bill that will bring fans of all stripes and sensibilities. The arch music of Franz Ferdinand and She Wants Revenge, also performing Saturday, are not far removed from the Depeche Mode style, but Kanye West, Daft Punk, Eagles of Death Metal and Sigur Ros will follow very different rhythms during the festival's first day. For that reason, Depeche Mode will lean more on tried and true anthems, such as "Personal Jesus," "People are People" and "Strangelove," than exploring the new material on "Playing the Angel," their 11th studio album, released last year.

"We've been on a tour where we played 75 or 80 shows here and in Europe and we were playing seven songs from the new album in the set," Gore said. "But at the festivals and bigger outdoor shows we won't do as many. We'll change the set from what we have been doing for our die-hard audience. When you're playing festivals where not everyone out there is necessarily your fan, if you play seven songs they don't know you might be setting yourself up for a potential losing battle."

The new album, though, has gotten generally winning reviews and Gore, the band's guitarist and the principal author of the Depeche Mode songbook, said it's been great to hear the new material compared again and again to "Violator," the 1990 album that Gore says is "generally regarded as the pinnacle of our work."

Those comparisons have added more positive energy to the band's march toward its third decade of music. Founded in 1980, the band from Basildon gets much of its dark and decadent-sounding flavor from the snarl of lanky frontman Dave Gahan and its pulsing sound from keyboardist Andy Fletcher. Together, they created signature songs of the 1980s and, along with the Smiths and the Cure, created a darkly romantic style of melancholy and mascara. The band has endured its share of internal pressures.

"I think we're getting on better then we have in years and years," Gore, 44, said. "This is the best, probably, in 15 years or more. I think that Dave putting out a solo album gave him more confidence and that he now feels more a part of the band. He wrote three of the songs on the new album.

"He also says now that he always felt slightly like a puppet because he was singing someone else's words. He was happy to do that for a long time but then he got to a point where he wanted to be part of the songwriting process."

The Coachella visit will put Depeche Mode on their first festival stage since the "Violator" days, Gore said. The guitarist has lived in Santa Barbara for about five years and he's heard plenty about the desert gathering that has become a model for huge, standing shows in the U.S.

"Doing a festival is almost like a new experience for us because it has been so long," Gore said. "It's going back into the mists of time when we played festivals -- back to the 1980s or early 1990s --and we're excited about it."

In the last week, as gray clouds rolled across the region, it crossed Gore's mind that rain might make a first-time intrusion on a festival that in years past only got fans sweaty, not soggy. "That might be good for us," he said. "That weather fits us, doesn't it?"

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