Today is a very important day in the history of electronic music. On 18th June 1988, exactly 25 years ago today, Depeche Mode played the 101st and last date of their Music for the Masses tour at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.
I was lucky enough to be able to watch a college football game at the venue not too long ago (the Bruins beat the Utes in the end), but I could only imagine what it might be like to see a band of DM’s stature there. Over 60,000 people squeezed into the stadium to see what must have been an astonishing event.
You get some feel for it if you watch the movie, also entitled 101, but you also have to put up with some a lot of footage of very annoying fans, so it’s the album I’ll concentrate on here. Besides, never having been a huge fan of the visual medium for music, the double CD live recording is, in my opinion, the best way to enjoy the event. Also, I don’t have the DVD to hand anyway…
The band come on stage to the album closer Pimpf before launching in earnest with Behind the Wheel, which of course to my surprise I now realise would have been pretty contemporary at the time, only having been released six months earlier!
Behind the Wheel also represents for me the period in which Depeche Mode, previously very European, truly embraced the USA, backed as it is with their brilliant cover of Route 66. It is completely right that 101 should have been filmed, performed, and recorded at the end of that road in California. The crowd screams, and singer Dave Gahan shouts, not for the last time, “Good evening Pasadena!”
The current hits continue – Strangelove is followed by brilliantly atmospheric album track Sacred. Oldie Something to Do follows, then the massive Blasphemous Rumours, both overwhelmed and engulfed by explosive enthusiasm from the crowd.
This was the peak of Depeche Mode‘s stadium rock era, and so it is entirely fitting that their early plinky plonk era is almost entirely forgotten – of the twenty tracks they played, seven are from Music for the Masses, four from Black Celebration, five from Some Great Reward, and the rest are oddities and b-sides. A Broken Frame is wiped entirely from history.
The extended ending of Blasphemous Rumours gives us a taste for what’s coming later, as they add a few repetitions of the chorus with different backing vocals, before we kick off into a very long version of Stripped. The first half ends in style with the deeply atmospheric album track The Things You Said.
They return after the interval (in which you switch CD) with a typically charged rendition of Black Celebration. The initial vocal sounds of Shake the Disease get the kind of response that a boy band might expect, and the song powers through with Gahan’s periodic shouts of “yeah!”
“Are you having a good time?” Gahan asks, as they launch into b-side Pleasure, Little Treasure. Well yes, actually, I am. What 101 generally lacks in terms of completely reinvented alternative versions, it more than makes up for with raw live energy, and the choice of tracks is very strong – there certainly aren’t any obvious omissions.
People are People kicks off with a steady build but is otherwise one of the less exciting tracks on the album (although the crowd seems to like it). Proceedings start heading towards a definite climax after this though with the throbbing rhythms of A Question of Time leading into Never Let Me Down Again. As Ali G would say at the MTV Europe Awards many years later, we certainly should not forget how depressing the eighties were, but Never Let Me Down Again is also a quite brilliant live anthem.
Finally, as encores, we get a taster for what Depeche Mode used to sound like way back six or seven years ago on their first couple of albums. Just Can’t Get Enough gets a rapturous response even though I suspect most of the audience don’t know what song it is until the chords kick in a few bars in.
But it’s Everything Counts, rightly released as a live single, which defines the album. The five minute version takes parts from the longer (In Larger Amounts) remix and whips the crowd into such a frenzy that they sing along for a full couple of minutes after the song has actually finished. It really must have felt as though the night was going to go on forever.
I think it’s fair to say that live albums are variable to say the least, but 101 is a masterclass in how to get them right. The set is amazing, the sound quality exceptional, and the performance unparalleled. Total genius.