I doubted Depeche Mode in my last outing here. Just call me Thomas. Yeah yeah, I know..
Their comeback single, ‘Where’s The Revolution?’ was topical, pointed, angry even. To my ears it was, and remains, a fairly middling piece of work. Not terrible by any means, but nothing to get excited about either. It’s only fair then, to apologise to the Basildon three (yes, even you, Fletch); on Saturday night Depeche Mode, again, made me a believer.
The truth is, I shouldn’t even be writing this review. I had decided that I wasn’t going to bother with Depeche Mode’s latest tour. Despite loving their O2 Delta Machine show, there were too many reasons not go this time.
Until the album reviews started coming in… Was I going to regret not coughing up for my favourite band on the planet, no matter where they were playing and how much it was going to cost? I decided to listen to the album before making a decision.
As we’re both here now, you know what the result of that was. Standing tickets were purchased within 24 hours of a couple of listens to album #14, Spirit.
It was about 7pm by the time we made our way out onto the vast arena floor. By the time we found a spot, about half way up the pitch I guess, the Horrors were just about to take the stage. Honestly though, aside from 2 or 3 tracks, they weren’t worth lingering on.
I had predicted an onstage time for Depeche of 20:15. I was spot on.
Greeted by a battery of mobile phones airborne to capture this moment, Martin’s dirty guitar signalled the first moment of the concert, Spirit’s opening track, the bluesy strut of ‘Going Backwards’. “We are not there yet, where we need to be”, Dave Gahan, 55 years young, is not going backwards at all. His voice filled the London Stadium, incredibly smooth and clear. What wasn’t clear, at least for the group next to us, was why the screens weren’t working. It was almost like they’d never been to a Depeche gig before.
I could only just about make out the band onstage, it took me a minute to work out that Martin was standing directly below the “supplementary musician”, Peter Gordeno.
The screens came to life for second track, ‘So Much Love’. The screens flanking the stage showing the live performance in front of us, with the main screen displaying filmed footage of the band “performing” the track. So far, so arch.
If ‘So Much Love’, with its insistent keyboards and obvious singalong potential, had woken the crowd up, then ‘Barrel Of A Gun’ started the party in earnest. This song has always had a special place in my heart for reintroducing me to the Mode twenty years ago. I greatly enjoyed Dave’s performance here, as he whirled, twirled and gurned about the stage as if transported back to the bad old days in which this song was written. As the song came to its end, Dave threw in a bit of “Don’t push me cos I’m close to the edge…” prompting me to wonder what might have happened had he pursued a rap career instead.
‘A Pain That I’m Used To’ followed, Martin on guitar and Gordeno joining him on bass, pushing Depeche ever further away from being the electro pioneers they once were. Just in case we’d forgotten though, a storming, brilliant version of ‘World In My Eyes’ followed, at times, it felt like the entire stadium was singing “Let me show you the world in my eyes!” Dave got so into it that he fell over, twice, and lost his microphone, leaving Martin and an adoring audience to finish the song.
Cover Me is one of the highlights on Spirit, so I was very much looking forward to hearing it in a stadium setting. It didn’t disappoint here. Anton’s, Dave as spaceman, visuals an almost too perfect match for Dave’s yearning tale and the melancholic, yet euphoric beats I disappeared into.
This was the time for Dave to go and rest his, no doubt bruised, bottom and let Martin take centre stage. In a show full of higlights, Martin bagged two of them here. ‘A Question of Lust’ will never be my favourite song, but its naked vulnerability here was a winner. Likewise, ‘Home’ is a song that I’ve always thought people who don’t like Depeche Mode can say they like; my least favourite of the four singles from Ultra. But the full band version here proved me an idiot. I’ve been through a tough time this year and I think my relationship with Jo has suffered as a result. However, as I bellowed along with 66,000 others,
“And I thank you for bringing me here/ For showing me home/ For singing these tears/ Finally I’ve found/ That I belong here”,
I felt something in me heal. I hope, now, for better times ahead. Thank you, Martin; love you, Jo.
Just like that, Dave returned, allowing the crowd to sing itself out, before saluting us, “You are the best!”
The pleasing skank of ‘Poison Heart’ followed, then ‘Where’s The Revolution?’ (the crowd definitely enjoyed this one more than me) before an extremely extended intro to ‘Wrong’. There were many things wrong with 2009’s Sounds of the Universe, Wrong may well have been the only thing right. Its wrong man, wrong time, wrong place, wrong life theme certainly something I could relate to. Things were picking up now as the night descended around us, ‘Everything Counts’ had everyone singing along to its “The grabbing hands grab all they can/ All for themselves after all” refrain.
Deep into singalong territory now, along came ‘Stripped’. The rain that came down seemed to underline and augment the heady, steamy atmosphere of this song. I could quite happily be stood in the London Stadium now chanting, “Let me see you stripped down to the bone”. On my own. In an empty stadium.
‘Enjoy The Silence’ next. If there had been a roof above us, it would surely have blown. Singing “All I ever wanted, all I ever needed is here in my arms” as I held onto Jo, just felt right. We were primed, now, for an almost punky, savage reading of ‘Never Let Me Down’ Again. I don’t know if Dave simply can’t sing this like he used to be able to (although his performance of ‘Corrupt’ earlier in the evening would suggest otherwise) but I enjoyed the staccato manner in which he delivered the song. And he demanded to see our hands, of course he did. And we all showed them to him. Even Jo. I looked around me and tried to work out if everyone was waving, but it was impossible to do so. Presumably because everyone was waving.
And then, with a “Goodnight, thank you!” they were gone.
Martin returned a few minutes later with Peter Gordeno and by the time they had finished a beautiful rendition of ‘Somebody’, I had a tear in my eye. Dave returned and the band ripped through ‘Walking In My Shoes’ and then, an oddity in the Depeche Mode live performance, a cover version. Any serious Depeche Mode fan knows the importance of David Bowie’s, ‘Heroes‘ in the band’s history. Wanting the set to be a surprise, I’d not paid much attention to setlists follwing the tour’s opening night. As a result, I’d sort of forgotten that they’d been playing it.
What a lovely surprise! The great cover versions, I think, don’t slavishly copy the original, they make the song something else (any Clash cover version of anything, for example). Depeche have certainly found their way around ‘Heroes’, turning it into a twinkly, slowburning ballad. Speaking just for me, I was delighted to hear my favorite band taking on a classic from one of the greatest artists to walk the earth. And, let’s face it, if there’s any band on the planet who could take on this one…
‘I Feel You’ saw Martin and Dave rocking out together in front of Christian Eigner’s drum kit. I found myself wondering to Jo whether Martin ever wants Christian to. Stop. Ruining. The. Songs. I don’t know, I get that ‘I Feel You’ has its place, but that place just seems to exist so Dave can be a rock star and he is so much more than that.
Anyway, that’s my one, curmudgeonly, complaint. I had no such comment to make about the closing track, the mighty ‘Personal Jesus’. Like everyone around me, I could have reached out to “touch faith” forever and ever. Amen. It had to stop, of course it did. Depeche Mode had given us their best for 130 minutes, how Dave was still standing at the end of all that, I have no idea. I knew I was looking forward to sitting down and I had just been watching for the last two hours.
They were tiny figures under the stage lights at the end. It seemed obvious though, watching their reaction on the large screens that they considered this to be a job well done. It was equally obvious that all around me agreed. The way they lingered onstage before departing for the final time told me that they were moved by such a display of mass approbation from a historically tricky hometown crowd.
They deserved every little bit of acclaim they received. Just writing this up makes me wish I was in Cologne to see them again tonight. They were, and are, magic.