Monday, May 05, 2008

Depeche Mode, "One Night In Paris", "Live in Milan"

I am years behind on DVD purchases. Give me some time to catch up.

I saw concerts on both of these tours, and the differences between the shows were considerable, not to mention my levels of enjoyment. So it goes with the associated DVDs.

The "Exciter" tour was the band's first in support of a "proper" album in eight years, but sadly (for those who had waited so long to see them live -- I'd like to pretend that the "Singles" tour didn't exist for my own reasons) the album turned out to be one of Depeche's weakest. The mellowness of the music mirrored the, ahem, maturation of the fan base, as the energy level on stage and in the crowd was ramped down several notches from past tours. On the other hand, "Playing the Angel" was one of the strongest albums of the band's career and proved to be more suited to anthemic singalongs than any of their albums since "Violator". A few more songs were rescued from mothballs ("Shake the Disease", "Policy of Truth") and the resulting tour setlists were arguably the strongest of any tour the band had ever done.

"One Night in Paris" is unmistakably Corbijn. He uses long, steady camera shots and a minimum of camera angles for each song. These shots are angled to provide maximal attention to the details of lighting and shadowing. When the camera focuses on one of the band members, it usually remains there long enough to permit intimate study of virtually everything that person is doing. In several instances, the angle and duration of the shots felt almost like an intrusion of Dave Gahan's privacy, picking up everything from his strained, in-the-moment facial expressions, to the slow drip of sweat falling from his body. The show gives plenty of time for reflection on the band's music, on the words they are singing, and on the personality of the performers. The slow pace of the "Exciter" songs certainly helps in this respect. The show feels more like a documentary than a rock and roll show.

"Live in Milan" is like Depeche Mode performing on the MTV Video Awards for two straight hours. The camera rarely stays still, constantly jumping through rapid-fire cuts, fast zooms, and extreme close-ups. The generous use of fuzzy, blurred effects and grainy video has the look and feel of handheld camera footage. This, along with plenty of crowd shots (which are *very* rarely used by Corbijn), and the ADD-editing, are intended to communicate the feeling of "being there" among all the frenzy and disorientation that one expects from a great concert. There are occasional pauses to focus on crotches, tattoos, and fingertips, seemingly in an all-out effort to portray the band as sex symbols and legendary rock stars. Once the DVD was over, I realized that I could remember very little about the stage design, lighting, and video displays (the stage was designed by Corbijn, incidentally) -- with all that jumping and cutting, there wasn't enough time to get a good look at any of that. The "scenery" vanished from my memory, but the way the songs sounded remained perfectly clear.

All in all, when each DVD ended, "Live In Milan" made me want to be back at the concert I saw in 2005, while "One Night In Paris" made me want to watch the DVD again. The high quality of the "Playing the Angel" tracks and the energy of the performances made that tour exceedingly special, particularly for a band in its 25th year of existence, and when it really comes down to it, the music matters most and everything else is window dressing in comparison. This implies that I had a strongly negative view toward "One Night In Paris", but it shouldn't be construed exactly as such. In a sense, the "Exciter" tour *needed* to be expertly captured on DVD in order to make up for the various weaknesses of the "Exciter" tour and album, thereby elevating "Exciter" to a greatness that it couldn't achieve on its own. As a viewing document to be enjoyed with the lights down at home, "One Night In Paris" is easily superior.

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