British Synth-Pioneers Depeche Mode On The Road Again

Band seems to be on comeback trail after last world tour, which nearly did group in for good.

MILAN, Italy -- The last time that British synth-pop pioneers Depeche Mode

embarked on a world tour, they stayed on the road for 14 months and played 156 shows.

Soon after, one member split and another nearly died.

So when vocalist Dave Gahan opened Depeche Mode's concert Sunday at the Forum

Arena with "Thank you, it's good to be back," he wasn't merely shouting out a

performance cliché. He meant it.

Before going onstage in front of a sold-out crowd of 10,000 fans at the second show of

the Italian leg of the band's current, 47-date world tour (which hits the U.S. in October),

Gahan said it was good to be back on the road.

"It's been going very well," Gahan said at a pre-show press conference featuring

members of Depeche Mode. "It's been a lot of fun and a lot of hard work too. Obviously,

we're a little bit older, but it's been a great feeling onstage. Some of the older songs are

taking new ways."

The band kicked off the show with 1986's "A Question of Time," with Gahan jumping

around the stage and dancing like he had just been brought back to life.

During their two-hour set on this 12th stop of their European tour, Depeche Mode

performed 16 of the songs off their new album, The Singles '86-'96, a 21-track,

double-CD collection. Before the show, Gahan said that the album had been a major

impetus in getting the band back on the road.

He said that the band needed all the motivation it could get to head back out on tour.

After Depeche Mode's last outing, the 1993-94 "Devotional Tour," early member Alan

Wilder left the band, reducing it to the trio of Gahan, guitarist/keyboardist/songwriter

Martin Gore and keyboardist Andrew Fletcher. Then, after enduring the excesses of

touring life, Gahan's drug addiction reached a point where he eventually lapsed into a

coma and almost died of an overdose in 1995.

So Depeche Mode thought twice before going on the road again. After releasing its 1997

comeback album, Ultra, the band decided not to tour because of Gahan's rehab

program.

But all of that seemed to be in the past at Sunday's show.

Performing on a stage framed by enormous red drapes, emblazoned with the letters "D"

and "M," Gahan and his bandmates played with an energy and intensity that made it

seem as if they'd never been away.

Fletcher stood at his keyboards, producing the samples and sounds that are central to

the band's gloomy, atmospheric music. Gore switched from keyboard to guitar as the

group made its way through a convoluted repertoire that ranged from its signature

synth-pop to rock-based, guitar-driven songs such as

HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Depeche_Mode/Personal_Jesus.ram">"Personal

Jesus" (RealAudio excerpt).

Along with a handful of Depeche Mode anthems, such as "Never Let Me Down" and

"Policy of Truth," the group also played its new single, "Only When I Lose Myself," written

and recorded especially for the compilation.

The fans reacted enthusiastically -- recognizing each song at the sound of its first notes --

as if they had been waiting to hear them for years. In fact, the concert had been sold out

for weeks.

"I was lucky to grab a ticket in time," said Marco Valsecchi, 25. "It was worth it because

last time they came here, I could not see them. And there was a moment when I thought

I'd never have the chance to see them, when Gahan almost died."

Even during the encore -- which included the piano ballad "Somebody" and the closing

HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Depeche_Mode/Just_Can't_Get_Enough.ram">

"Just Can't Get Enough" (RealAudio excerpt) -- there were still fans without a

ticket trying to get in just to see a bit of the show.

"Maybe next time," said one dejected fan, who didn't make it.