If you can’t break a 6 month long blogging hiatus when your favourite band play their first London show in three years, then I don’t know when you can.
I had previously stalled on writing a review of Depeche Mode’s 13th studio LP, Delta Machine- basically because I couldn’t work out how to finish it. But that isn’t going to happen this time, not with Depeche Mode’s first night of two at London’s O2.
Disclaimer now: I don’t have any pictures. Well, none that I could justifiably use here as we were sat in row X of block 104, which is towards the back of the arena. From where we were sat, the Mode cut tiny figures in the distance. But at least we could see them, which was a considerable improvement on our 2009 Tour of the Universe experience in Rome’s Stadio Olimpico. Back then, if it hadn’t have been for the near immaculate sound, we might as well have been in the Coliseum.
But I have simultaneously got ahead of, and behind, myself. Last night I arrived at North Greenwich, after a remarkably hassle free journey from Kings Cross, just before Jo. I took a pause to admire the big Depeche Mode poster greeting the arriving “Black Swarm” and then we hit Wagamama’s. I mention this only because the restaurant treated its customers to the Master & Servant and Personal Jesus videos. From there, a trip to TGI’s and a couple of cocktails each and, after a refreshment pause, then we were in.
We caught the tail end of the support act and, before too long, the lights went down and some distorted sounds burst from the speakers. It was on. And the O2 rose from their seats as one.
Set opener, Wecome To My World was dominated by the strength of Dave’s clear as a bell baritone, Christian Eigner’s drums and by the huge white letters spelling out the song title against a black background. As on the Delta Machine LP, Angel followed Welcome and, whilst I’m not always keen on Christian Eigner’s live drumming, I thought it really added something to one of my favourite tracks on the new album. I’d only seen Depeche twice before (both outdoors) and on each occasion, it felt as though it had taken a couple of tracks for Dave’s voice to warm up, for the band to get their sound right.
But not tonight- or last night for that matter, Dave sounded brilliant. The band, as they flew through a selection of classic tracks- Walking In My Shoes, a slowly menacing Black Celebration and a savagely spot on Policy Of Truth (the highlight of the early part of the set, I think)- were right behind him. Jo and I enjoyed singing “Never again is what you swore the time before” at each other for reasons that will remain private.
With Martin switching between synth and guitar as needed, another, savage, menacing track in Barrel Of A Gun was dispatched with style. I was delighted about that. I’ve never understood why it had apparently been consigned to the great pile of Depeche classics apparently doomed to their dustbin. Just as I was starting to think, yes, I’m loving this, but I haven’t come for a greatest hits show, one of the standout tracks from Delta Machine, Should Be Higher, kicked in. Dave wrote this track and I think it kind of showed- he got right inside it and even managed to pull the high “Loo-oooooooove!” bit off without busting a nut. At least, I assume he did. He must have done, because as the song drew to a close, there were repeated calls of “Looo-ooooove!” from the stage, which encouraged a few people, though not everybody to join in.
After all that, it was time for a breather- for Dave at least- so Martin took centre stage with a storming rendition of Higher Love, which he followed up with When The Body Speaks.
Dave returned, people got back to their feet and lead off single from Delta Machine, Heaven filled the arena. I wasn’t that in love with it, to be honest. Dave sang it very well, but whilst I think it’s a good song, it’s not what I want from a Mode gig. The visuals were quite striking though, with the boys donning welders goggles amidst showers of spark and references to at least three Depeche videos from years gone by. To follow up this slowie with the Personal Jesus riff referencing Soothe My Soul seemed a bit bizarre. Far be it for me to tell these guys who have had their career almost as long as I’ve been alive how to do their job, but I would have thought such a roof raiser as Soothe… needed to be built into. And then, to follow it up with a remix of A Pain That I’m Used To which robbed it of most its original power seemed perverse. But I did love the way Dave went all bug eyed on the “junkie!” line in Soothe My Soul.
But that’s just my opinion. It had also turned into a very minor quibble by the time the main set had finished. A pounding Question of Time (assisted by Dave led synchronised handclapping) was followed by Secret To The End and then the two Depeche songs which will never, ever be dropped from the setlist, Personal Jesus and Enjoy The Silence. There’s just something about these tracks… I think it’s that they’re classics. Enjoy The Silence seemed a little slower in tempo than the recorded version, as if Martin has tried to reclaim the spirit of the demo he once recorded, only to have Alan Wilder speed it up all those years ago. There was a lot of singing along by now. Which continued as Personal Jesus was brought in on a dirty little guitar riff from Martin Gore (actually there was nothing little about it). As one, the arena- aside from my fiancée who, wrongly, believes the track to be “duff”- reached out and touched… faith? Maybe.
The final act of the main set was something that, just thinking about it this lunchtime, brings a tear to my eye. Really. The last track on the new album is called Goodbye and as I stood listening to this song, “Goodbye pain/ Goodbye again) and watched the visuals of three old geezers sitting on a bench, taking it turns to wear a hat, I found myself welling up. I know this probably sounds mad, but I found myself looking at it and thinking that, much as we know there really will be a final “Goodbye” from them one day, I don’t want it to be now. I think the video kind of brought home the fact that it will come sooner than we’re all ready for. Perhaps I’m “speaking just for me” here.
Anyway, I dried my eyes and by the time I had, they were back out on stage. Well, Martin was. An acoustic version of Home brought the house down, at least until Dave returned to stage trying to continue the singalong that Martin had, in his own very sweet way conducted. For some reason, voices died in their throats as Dave tried to get us all going again, “I think you can do better than that… just think of your favourite football team!”
The Goldfrapp remix of Halo, which was more enjoyable than I was expecting it to be, though lacking the dymanic power of the original followed. And then Just Can’t Enough came close to taking the roof off the O2 as everyone, eventually, realised what Eigner’s drums were building into. I Feel You is still powerful, but I think, live it’s maybe too powerful and lacking a bit in the way of a tune. I found myself, maybe for the first time, feeling a little bit disconnected from what was going on onstage. But that wasn’t going to happen with the final track of the night, Never Let Me Down Again. Is it the best track Martin Lee Gore ever wrote? It might just be. Critics will probably say that nearly twenty five years after the Rose Bowl, the arm waving has become a little bit ridiculous. I say, fuck them. It was quite a sight to see everyone, even the people in vertiginous level 4 swaying their arms from side to side. And to see the couple in front of me making the most of the space 4 early leavers had afforded them with some, um, interesting dance moves.
It was that kind of night, though for the hordes of people who’d apparently turned up without listening to the new album, it might have registered as a disappointment. And hopefully a lesson that the band are not, as I might have previously thought, stuck in a time warp somewhere between 1986- 1993. They seemed to really enjoy themselves, I hope they did.
Honestly, these guys are a national treasure. Check them out before they say goodbye forever.