With the sun still above the horizon, Depeche Mode did its best to turn the lawn and the pavilion at Merriweather Post into a smoke-filled, strobe-lit late-night dance club. The 14,000 screaming Depeche Mode fans willingly went along with the illusion and remained on their feet, dancing in place for nearly two hours. The set included most of the group's recent release, "Violator," as well as the obligatory retrospective of their almost 10 years of club hits, but it almost seemed not to matter what they played.
Lead singer Dave Gahan took the stage in super-tight white jeans, while the others stood on overlapping disk-shaped platforms wearing outfits that looked like something out of "The Jetsons." Rest assured, fashion was not an idle conceit here, but part of an integrated visual whole, with an astounding light show, completely different for each number, and video projections of fading roses and tulips, phases of the moon and semi-clad cowgirls adding to the sense of youthful angst.
Songs like "Strangelove" and "Master and Servant" were performed with the perfection expected of a band whose drums and much more are programmed directly into the sound system. Despite the near-sterility of the sound, it retained an undeniably infectious power. In the middle of the set, main Mode songwriter Martin Gore took to the stage alone with a guitar and played two numbers that guarantee him a career in coffeehouses when his synth-pop days are over. Reclaiming the focus, Gahan ran back onstage like a latter-day Tom Jones and did a fine job on "Clean," collecting flowers from the crowd as he skipped back and forth, cheerleading wildly. And cheer the audience did, holding up thousands of burning lighters, until well after the last of four encores, a misguided version of "Route 66," but no one seemed to mind.