Live Review: Depeche Mode on Hollywood Boulevard, April 23

Politicians thrive on monuments.  Not necessarily statues of dead generals astride weighty steeds per se, but the kind of gestures which proclaim to the public:  “See now, People.  See what I have done for you.  Because I, Politician, am like you.  I understand you.  I care for you.  Though I might bugger farm animals and embezzle funds created from your tax dollars, it is my hope that when you next vote, you will be blinded by my generous public service, and more specifically, this monument which I have bestowed upon you.”

From Barbara Democrat, that might be a fancy new road.  From Joey Republican, it might be a shiny new community center.  From Los Angeles Councilman Eric Garcetti, it was Depeche Mode’s free live performance on Hollywood Boulevard as part of the Jimmy Kimmel Live! television broadcast last Thursday night.

The Descendants once lobbied to “keep your politics out of my music,” and yet politics rather than entertainment were what were front and center on this occasion.  It wasn’t so much Depeche Mode playing a free show at the famous intersection of “Hollywood and Vine”* as much as it was an excuse to trumpet the monstrous one-block behemoth that is the soon-to-be-opened W hotel/condo/restaurant/bar/shopping/whatever facility located there.

Though Kimmel show staffers promised throughout the day that Depeche Mode would take the stage by 7:30 PM (and official documents from 1iota, the company in charge of shepherding the crowd into the performance area, stated the band would “go on around 7:45”), there would be no Depeche Mode until nearly an hour later.  Fortunately, the captive audience was kept docile with the repeated screenings of a commercial for the W and the trailer for the film Fighting — yet another clichéd tale of a lovable-but-flawed down-on-his-luck anti-hero with nothing to lose but everything to gain by using his special-though-unorthodox gift – in this case, his fists – to overcome great odds, in the tradition of Rocky, Rocky 2, Rocky 3, Rocky IV, Rocky Balboa, 8 Mile, Cinderella Man, SeaBiscuit, The Karate Kid, Private Parts, Bloodsport and Million Dollar Baby.  One thing’s certain: judging from the trailer, the creators of Girlfight don’t have much to worry about.  Or even Diggstown for that matter.

Regardless, after the corporate brainwashing portion of the evening’s program had seemingly concluded, the self-aggrandizing masturbation began.  Garcetti was painted as some kind of lovable-but-flawed and leather-jacketed, hip anti-councilman who suffered under a veritable deluge of complaints** due to the neighborhood street closings that made the event possible, and though he had everything to lose and nothing to gain, he put it all on the line to by using his special-though-unorthodox gift – in this case, politicking – to overcome great odds and bring the good people of Hollywood the majesty of Depeche Mode’s synth-rock.  All of which would probably make a better movie than Fighting.

Shortly after a couple more whored-out odes to the splendor of the W and Garcetti’s induction into sainthood, Jimmy Kimmel appeared in the middle of the throng – just like a regular guy, albeit one on a pedestal – to warm up the crowd and run through some introductions.  Kimmel jokingly asked those present how many were there to see the band and how many were just homeless, which would have been pretty funny except for the realization that homeless people will be in short supply around Hollywood and Vine once the W opens.

It didn’t matter.  The crowd ate it up.  Or, at least the crowd that was near Kimmel, which was composed of mostly white Haves in the form of KROQ winners, VIPs and attendees of the Kimmel show proper from down the street, space for whom was reserved in advance.  Have Nots were forced to watch the proceedings from a distance, many of whom were literally caged into a parking lot by its security fencing, which, in the event of an emergency, would have made the 1979 trampling deaths at the Who concert in Cincinnati look like a casual vineyard grape-stomping in comparison.  This included a large Latin contingent, their presence recalling the makeup of a Morrissey crowd, which leads one to wonder what about the Southland experience magically makes Mode’s and maestro Mozz’s mellifluous melancholic melodies manifest magnetically in their minds?

In any case, the whoredom didn’t end at the conclusion of Depeche Mode’s set.  There was another round of back-patting and even a parting shot from a Weeble-shaped, 50s-ish corporate type who took the stage to proselytize on behalf of the W one last time, telling the crowd – no lie – to “peace out” at the end of his sound bite.  It’s difficult to tell what was worse – his choice of words or the decision to untuck his shirt over his pleated slacks in an attempt to appear at one with the audience.  Either way, he gave reverse meaning to the phrase “painfully hip.”

Now, to be fair, staging a major concert in the middle of the city can‘t be cheap.  So underwriting from corporate sponsors is somewhat to be expected. The dog-and-pony show that comes with the money?  Expected.  The muddy sound generated by a concert setting composed of open air and concrete?  Expected.  KROQ’s seizing the opportunity to purport their own supposed relevance by championing their relationship with a band they claim to have broke single-handedly 30-odd years ago?  Definitely expected.  (Depending on the day, KROQ will also lay claim to the invention of fire, bringing water to the Los Angeles basin, saving baby seals, the genetics of Megan Fox and giving birth to Tom Yorke.)

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Truly, the combination of a high-caliber band performing in public on national TV with major radio support — at the site of a city-endorsed commercial development, no less — is something that doesn’t come together every day.  Add to it the fact that it all went down on top of a major stop on the city’s much-maligned subway line (aka the subway mostly poor people ride because it doesn’t go anywhere good), and you’ve got the perfect storm for any pack-a-day PR flack.  So an enlarged sense of self from all those involved with the event was perhaps to be, well — expected.

But while the W will bring jobs to the neighborhood, generate tax revenue for the city and commingle some Have Not low-income housing within the walls its uppity enclave, it seemed a bit presumptuous on the part of Garcetti and company to assume they could convince The People that what they need right now, in these uncertain times filled with economic woe, homelessness and unemployment, is an elitist playground – and one that will serve as a testament to the Haves that helped nosedive the United States into its current predicament at that.

Oh, and as for Depeche Mode, after opening with a requisite performance of their so-so current single, “Wrong” from their latest, Sounds of the Universe, they dove into a fan-favorite micro-set which included “Personal Jesus” “Walking In My Shoes” and “Enjoy The Silence,” among others.  Given the environment, they were excellent, with Dave Gahan looking and sounding particularly great for a former dead guy.

A ramped-up performance of “Never Let Me Down Again” capped their set; fitting considering the song helped remind everyone present who it was in fact “wearing the trousers” on this occasion — despite what the corporate banners on stage might have read.

Something of a monumental achievement.

*(The event actually took place at the intersection of Hollywood and Argyle, a slightly less famous setting than Hollywood and Vine.)

**(By Garcetti’s own admission, he received only “a few dozen” complaint calls.)

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