Arriving over 40 years late to the party, this was my first live Depeche Mode experience, despite them being one of my absolute favourite bands, owning every release and considering “Stripped” one of the best songs ever. So, expectations were high tonight.
Standing room felt justified, and it was imperative to get near the front. I wanted the sweat and the tears tonight, and I got exactly that. More than just a show, this was an experience performed by a band who know exactly how to work an audience and still have a whale of a time themselves.
Support Nadine Shah was an inspired choice, with some of her songs sounding influenced by DM’s 90s output. Already approaching her fifth album, Filthy Underneath, Shah is a unique performer, despite some flourishes of early PJ Harvey. Her music is rhythmic and pointed, particularly in “Topless Mother,” where she and the band let rip. “Greatest Dancer” is also a highlight.
Entertaining a crowd as large as this is an unenviable task, particularly when supporting a band with a fanbase as devoted as Depeche Mode’s, but Nadine Shah manages with ease. Whether that is through her pin-sharp vocals or often hypnotic movements, her six-song set flies by with never a dull moment.
Last year’s Memento Mori album has now had time to breathe and feels more like classic Depeche Mode than maybe it did to those summer crowds of ‘23. In the dark of a January night, this gothic collection perhaps feels more appropriate, too. Whilst remaining band members Dave Gahan and Martin Gore insisted that many of the death-tinged tracks were written before the untimely passing of Andy Fletcher in 2022, this is the album that will always be connected with that tragedy. The title alone is a permanent reminder.
This is no Black Celebration tonight, however, as the set errs towards the rockier side of the band, eschewing much of the recent album in favour of big hits from their mid-period with the intention of truly giving their fans what they want.
Starting with Memento Mori opener, “My Cosmos is Mine,” a slow burner that gives Gahan a chance to tune his vocals in for the rest of the night, this is a song that was surely written with stadiums in mind. What immediately strikes me is the decision to have just four musicians on stage. Gahan and Gore joined by drummer Christian Eigner, with Peter Gordeno on keys. Both have been present since the mid-90s. Their sound fills the arena more than adequately. It is worth noting that Gordeno resembles all members of The Cure rolled into one. “Wagging Tongue,” which almost broke the Top 20 last year follows, and the band are in their stride.
Gahan struts like a peacock and, to quote from the recent film Poor Things, “grabs his hairy business” almost as much as Michael Jackson once did. Despite his years, he is still bursting with sexual energy, a characteristic that appeared in the late 80s following a period of bow ties and tweed jackets, and has remained ever since. Martin Gore, who appears to be having a ball from the start, is still as androgynous as ever. I heard him in an old interview referring to his appearance as a “Plonker” in the video for “Its Called a Heart”, but he is one of the very few men in pop to have gotten away with dressing so outrageously, so well and for so long.
“Walking in My Shoes” finally throws us back to that era when Depeche Mode were still a soaring presence in the singles charts, and this track from 1993’s Songs of Faith and Devotion marked the move to Cathedral size production and religious iconography that also saw Gahan re-invent himself as a swaggering tattooed preacherman. The song is performed with bombast and style as Gahan flaunts himself on the catwalk, arms spread wide, drinking in the mass adoration.
More 90s anthems commence with similar aplomb, “It’s no Good”, “Policy of Truth” and “In your Room”, before being thrust back to the perennial live favourite, “Everything Counts” from 1983’s Construction Time Again. The seriousness of the middle period lapses when the band dig further back and “Everything Counts” becomes a massive pub sing-a-long, accompanied by Gore’s beaming smile.
Mid-set and there is a lull as the songs become more tender and the mood becomes serene. “Precious”, from 2005’s Playing the Angel album is one of their most heartbreaking songs and is performed beautifully tonight, as is the more recent “Before we Drown”, backed with mesmeric monochrome waves on the giant screen behind.
Gahan takes a break as Martin Gore stands alone in the spotlight, mid-catwalk and performs a haunting acoustic version of “Strangelove”, one of their most upbeat singles from 1987. Hearing it like this is a whole new experience. True fan favourite, “Somebody”, a song originally performed as a fragile solo by Gore from 1984’s Some Great Reward follows. Gore’s voice has become more fragile, as the opening line of the song states, and it is with this aspect that the song takes on an even more powerful stance now. “Somebody” is a solid reminder of how brilliant Gore was as a writer from a startlingly young age.
The poignant “Ghosts Again”, the lead single from Memento Mori brings the mood back and is played against the Anton Corbijn shot music video where Gahan and Gore re-enact Ingmar Bergman’s iconic chess scene from The Seventh Seal. This felt like an appropriate tribute to Andrew Fletcher on its release from the man who grainily defined the band’s look from Black Celebration and beyond.
The final run of songs up the ante as a collection of sure-fire stadium fillers. The grinding “I Feel You” is followed by a spectacular Jacque Le Cont remix version of “A Pain that I’m used to.” “Behind the Wheel”, a highlight tonight, is also played against the Anton Corbijn video from 1987 where we see the always solitary figure of Andrew Fletcher, and Gahan uses the opportunity to dedicate the song to him.
“Black Celebration” fittingly follows along with the timeless “Stripped”. “John the Revelator” has never sounded better and paves the way for the final song from the main set, the inevitable, lighter waving epic, “Enjoy the Silence”.
A change of clothes and a startling encore, starts with Gahan and Gore standing together at the end of the catwalk to deliver an acoustic “Waiting for the Night” from Violator. They look vulnerable, but also look like an Addams Family version of Simon and Garfunkel. It’s a morose moment that doesn’t last long as Joanna (50) at the front is treated to a stadium sized rendition of “Happy Birthday to You”. Gahan takes a bunch of black paper-wrapped flowers from one fan and passes them to the birthday girl. A cry of “Lets have some fun!” from the singer leads to another all-time favourite and the song that really launched DM to stardom, “I Just Can’t Get Enough”.
“Never Let Me Down Again,” which provided 1987’s Music from the Masses with perhaps one of the greatest opening riffs of the decade, makes a late appearance before the thundering final act of “Personal Jesus,” a song that has taken on a whole different life of its own since its appearance on 1990’s Violator, appearing in a plethora of films and ads and being covered by Marilyn Manson.
This was a gig that was well worth the wait. The song selection was perfect, and the performances electric. Gahan is as much the Rock frontman as any contender, playing the mic stand like Freddie Mercury and delivering vocals with the power of Robert Plant. 40 years and a shedding of three original band members has done nothing to lessen the impact of Depeche Mode, and tonight’s gig was exceptional. Bring on the next tour.
To pick up Depeche Mode’s latest album, head over to their Official Webstore.
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