Depeche Mode: 101

Depeche Mode - 101Synopsis: 101 chronicles the journey of Depeche Mode fans who won a contest to be filmed as they travel to see Depeche Mode’s 1988 U.S. tour. The film focuses on the fans and behind the scenes footage of the band – all tied together with mesmerizing live cuts from Depeche Mode’s 1988 Pasaden, CA Rose Bowl Show.

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Depeche Mode: 101 8.0

eyelights: the live performances. some of the backstage scenes. going on the road with the DM fans.
eyesores: the limited narrative.

“Good evening Pasadena!”

‘101’ is documentary film by legendary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker (of ‘Don’t Look Back’, ‘Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars’  and ‘Jimi Plays Monterey‘ fame). It follows Depeche Mode during their North American tour in support of ‘Music for the Masses’, culminating with their final show of the tour, at the Rose Bowl, in Pasadena, CA, on June 18, 1988, before 60,000+ people.

The title was an inspiration of then-band member Alan Wilder, based on the fact that the show was the 101st of the tour and that there was a Route 101 nearby. Personally, as a fan, I always thought that it was a reference to introductory college classes. I figured that perhaps this this documentary was intended as an introduction to the world of Depeche Mode. And, in some ways, it is.

‘101’ is part concert film and part road movie.

On the one hand, it documents everything that is inherent to massive tours: the fans, photo shoots, promotional radio bits, interviews, jetting about, the tour manager handling issues, …etc. And, of course, it also features a bevy of live performances culled from their tour, including snippets of a few shows on the way to Pasadena – and highlights from the Rose Bowl itself.

It’s also a road movie in that Depeche Mode decided to hold a contest for fans, which took the winners on the road for a week. They didn’t travel together, but these eight lucky contest winners were on a tour bus and followed the band from one city to the next, attending each of the concerts that they held along the way. Half of the movie is devoted to tagging along with them.

Delivered in a 4:3 format on the DVD (I’m not sure if that was the way it was shown in cinemas at the time) the motion picture cuts between road stuff and concert stuff in a seemingly haphazard fashion. However, the rhythm is excellent. The problem is that the film’s narrative, if narrative there is, is a bit ambiguous; we’re not really sure what the story is. An yet, somehow, it still works.

The film begins with the announcement of the Rose Bowl show. And then the announcement of the contest. Contestants needed to be available from June 10-18, and had to be at least 18 years of age. The next thing we know, there are a bunch of young adults dancing in a club to the sounds of Depeche Mode. It soon become clear that they were being screened for the contest.

The winners were Oliver Chesler, Mia Decaro, Sandra Fergus, Christopher Hardwick, Liz Lazo (as Elizabeth Lazlo), Margaret Mouzakitis, Chris Parziale, and Jay Serken. It’s not clear how they were chosen, based on what criteria. The only thing we know is that one moment they’re all on a dance floor partying, and then the next thing they’re all in a room signing some papers.

Soon after, they go get their stuff. We see their homes, friends, family, and then they hit the road. This consists largely of them watching videos and dancing to DM on bus. And there’s lots of beer drinking. A few of them visit Graceland at one point, but are utterly bored. Personally I love the way this bunch looks – they were still influenced by new wave and punk (one guy’s got these elaborate spikes – very cool).

Along the way, we are privy to a number of snippets from various concerts. The towns are never really established, but the crowds seem different so, presumably, they’re all from different concerts. The songs that they play, in order of appearance are: “Master and Servant”, “Things You Said”, “Blasphemous Rumours”, “People Are People”, “Stripped”, “Black Celebration”, “Nothing”, “Shake the Disease” and “Question of Time”.

At one point, the kids show off their tour bus to Alan Wilder. Wilder is by far my favourite of the lot; he seems very down-to-earth and friendly. He was the techie side of the band, totally into the production (as evidenced by his subsequent project, Recoil). He’s basically a quiet, but congenial, musical genius with a deep passion for the process of making music. In my mind, he’s the source of DM’s then-elaborate sound.

Of course, there’s also singer-songwriter Martin L. Gore, who, after their debut album took over writing duties for all of their songs until only just recently. He did a terrific job of it for a while. He comes off as extremely shy, maybe a bit wounded, as though he were once a sensitive kid who was beat up a lot. He’s the odd duck of the lot, always wearing these unusual bondage-light outfits, and grinning sheepishly.

Then there’s Dave Gahan, the singer. At the time, he wasn’t yet on the road to self-destruction, but you could see that the seeds were planted. A terrific singer and frontman, he was obviously struggling with some anger and loving  the kicks he got on the road. Here, he comes off as someone trying to prove himself, trying to be cool. This may be what lead him to near-death and serious personal issues only a few years later.

And then there’s Andy Fletcher. Oh, Andy, Andy… what do we make of him? He says his job is keeping the band together. Perhaps that’s true. Here, he feels like the awkward cousin of the band: dorky, and not much of a role or apparent skill. He just stands there, seemingly clueless. On stage, he participates, like the others, but he has very little presence. He would eventually take on the role of managing the band for a while.

Anyway, 3/4 of the way in comes the day of the Pasadena show: there were over 60 thousand paying concertgoers!!! The band were clearly on the rise. The concert footage consists of sound checks, prep work by the road crew, the band’s media interviews, vendors selling swag to fans, and staff counting large sums of cash. And, of course, there is the footage from the concert itself – of which there is about 25 minutes’ worth.

There’s a small break before the final two tracks, which were part of the encore, as we watch the band recharge backstage before going back. Gahan is in top form for this concert, though (unlike some of the previous ones in this film). He even seems to be having fun. The concert winners say it was the best of all the shows they saw and are visibly excited about the show, even though they’d been to many over the course of the week.

What I love about this era in Depeche Mode’s history is watching the band make electronic music on stage. They manually used keyboards, instead of pre-programming everything, and had these huge electronic panels that they beat on to make percussive sounds. Not only is it visually exciting to watch, but it lends them much more credibility than having a tape machine; to me, it’s as legit as beating taiko drums.

That’s a huge highlight for me, because, before I saw this film, I didn’t know that such equipment existed. I was totally impressed with this unexpectedly primal side of their electronic creations. Sadly, I’ve never seen these sort of contraptions used in a live show – not even when I went to a Depeche Mode concert (by 2001, they had given in and used computers… sigh…).

‘101’ has plenty of other highlights for me, including:

  • There’s an interview with Alan Wilder where he explains why the band didn’t have a drummer (one reason is because it was easier for practicing at home). He also took the time to describe the equipment and how it’s all set up; this is as close to a behind-the-scenes tour that we get in the whole picture.
  • Dave Gahan talked with a buddy about the downside of the job: fewer friends because you’re always on the road (he claimed to only have two), and the really high pressure. He said that he was happier stocking shelves; it was !@#$ pay, but it was more easy-going than this was.
  • There a call-in radio show where a guy sings “People Are People” and messes up all the lyrics. Martin and Andy have a good laugh at that one. It’s also an awkward segment because the DJ was obviously a rock dude and made a poor joke about their name. The pair took it in stride, but it was disrespectful of him.
  • I also quite enjoyed watching the concert’s lighting engineer work her console during the show. I guess that, back then, bands didn’t have the luxury of computer-controlled lighting and she basically had to do everything manually. Her timing had to be impeccable. And it was. Colour me impressed.

‘101’ is probably more appealing to fans of the band than anyone else. I have a hard time imaging non-fans enjoying this because its time is divided between behind-the-scenes material and following the contest winners – in that sense, it wouldn’t  be very insightful. However, for fans, this is a total wish-fulfilment fantasy.

As for me, even to this day, I find it entirely entertaining. My musical tastes have evolved considerably since then, but I still love watching Depeche Mode perform these songs – and in that manner. And I still break out the companion ‘101’ double album, even though I probably overplayed it through the years.

‘101’ is where it all started for me. This live show (in particular the double album, which was in super high rotation at the time) is what really got me into Depeche Mode. It prepared me for their upcoming masterpiece, ‘Violator’, which remains in my all-time Top 5 albums. So ‘101’ will always hold a dear place in my heart.

But there’s more!

The DVD also features a television edit of the concert. Unfortunately, the expurgated material is missing and, thus, the full concert could not be presented here. Of the 19 songs that Depeche Mode performed, only 12 are available here, for a running time of approximately 53 minutes.

The strange thing is that what little is available isn’t even presented in the correct order! Here is the original set list (which, incidentally,  is mirrored on the album):

1. Behind the Wheel
2. Strangelove
3. Sacred
4. Something to Do
5. Blasphemous Rumours
6. Stripped
7. Somebody
8. The Things You Said
9. Black Celebration
10. Shake the Disease
11. Nothing
12. Pleasure, Little Treasure
13. People Are People
14. A Question of Time
15. Never Let Me Down Again

Encore 1:
16. A Question of Lust
17. Master and Servant

Encore 2:
18. Just Can’t Get Enough
19. Everything Counts

And here is the show, as presented on this DVD:

1. Master and Servant
2. Pimpf
3. Behind the Wheel
4. Strangelove
5. Blasphemous Rumours
6. Stripped
7. Somebody
8. Black Celebration
9. Pleasure, Little Treasure
10. Just Can’t Get Enough
11. Everything Counts
12. Never Let Me Down Again

I seriously cannot fathom why it was served up this way. It seems to me that, at least, they would want to be as faithful as possible. Alas, not only did they move things around, but “Everything Counts” suffers from an abrupt fade in and “Black Celebration” from an even more jarring fade out. It boggles the mind.

On top of that, if their intention was to make the show more TV-friendly, “Black Celebration” would have been a better intro than “Master and Servant”, I think. Anyway, I hope that, someday, the lost footage will be found and we’ll be able to see this legendary performance in its full glory (on a BD release, perhaps?).

(If so, rest assured that it will be reviewed here in depth.)

Despite being incomplete, its current form is a blast to watch. DM were breaking through to the masses at this juncture and, although their stage set-up is slightly rudimentary, you can feel the excitement that energizes the band and the fans – of which there are countless; that concert is a sea of waving, moving in unison. 8.0

On top of that television programme, the DVD also features interviews with many of the people involved: Dave Gahan, Martin L. Gore, Andrew Fletcher, Daniel Miller, Jonathan Kesler, as well as three of the contest winners. Each interview is relatively short, mind you, being mostly a quick update on each, but it’s a nice addition. 7.5

As well, the DVD include the music video for the ‘101’ version of “Everything Counts”. I’m not a huge fan of it because it tacks on the money counting segment of the film at the front end, and I find it hypocritical in a way, perhaps even vain. But there are few snippets in it that are not from ‘101’ and that’s cool to see. 7.0

All in all , this is a terrific DVD set. Sure it’s flawed in some areas, but it’s full of content and it’s as good as it got at the time of its release. Will a more complete edition come out someday? I surely hope so. This is an important moment in the band’s life and ‘101’ does an excellent job of documenting it.

For Depeche Mode fans, ‘101’ is pretty much the #1 must-see home video release of their whole career (thus far).

Date of viewing: March 31, 2014

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