DEPECHE MODE, London o2 Arena, 29 May 2013
Setlist : Intro – Welcome To My World – Angel – In Your Room (Zephyr) – Precious – Behind The Wheel – World In My Eyes – Should Be Higher – Barrel Of A Gun – Only When I Lose Myself – When The Body Speaks – Heaven – Soothe My Soul – John The Revelator - Soft Touch / Raw Nerve - Secret To The End – Enjoy The Silence – Personal Jesus – Goodbye – Home – Halo – Just Can't Get Enough – I Feel You – Never Let Me Down Again
I've been seeing Depeche Mode 23 years. Over half my life. The first time was the final venue of the “Violator” tour, where the drug-fuelled Gahan preened as three men remained resolutely behind chunky synths and projections went bonkers. These days, the band are still huge, but evolved into a rampaging five piece : Gahan, Gore, and the effortless Fletcher, whilst the heavy lifting comes from Christian Eigner on drums, and Peter Gordeno the backroom synth wizard both marking their fifteenth touring year with the band. These days, in Depeche Mode world, some things are given.
The band never change the setlist. If you're lucky Martin Gore plays a different 'solo' song. Enjoy The Silence always has a long wigout section at the end with a drufm solo. People wave their hands during “Never Let me Down Again”, and yell “Reach Out And Touch Faith!” in “Personal Jesus”. There are some shockingly attractive people in the audience, and Martin L Gore approves of my inner desire to ruin some lives if his songs are anything to go by. The same few songs get played at every show – endlessly dancable albatrosses around their neck. There's always a bit during “Walking In My Shoes” where -
Wait, tonight is the first Depeche Mode in 23 years where they haven't played “Walking In Shoes”. The first Mode show in 27 years where they haven't played a single song from “Black Celebration”. The first show in 25 years where the youngest song came out in 1987*
Tonight though, is Depeche Mode history. In a band that plays the same songs, in the same order, normally somewhere in the region of 100 shows in a row, Depeche Mode break a thirty year protocol, and introduce five songs into the setlist. Not mid-tour after a few weeks off. They played a show last night. This never happens. NEVER.
For the second night in London, Depeche Mode – three weeks into their nine month tour with around 100 shows to go – play “In Your Room”, “Behind The Wheel”, and “World In My Eyes”, for the first time in three years, and “John The Revelator” for the first time in seven years, as well the first public live performance of “Soft Touch / Raw Nerve”.
I was trying to forget the setlist, after all, because the internet spoils stuff. Only three weeks into the tour, and someone has already uploaded to YouTube the whole first show in multi-camera, fully edited fashion. When I liked Depeche Mode, if you were lucky a stodgy vinyl LP might turn up for £20 six months after the show, or a very grainy VHS tape might arrive in the post. It's all changed now.
So, starting with a slow build of the obvious “Welcome To My World”, it becomes obvious that Depeche are obsessed with sex, sin, guilt, redemption, generally being unhappy, and really old synthesisers. Also, as evidenced by the backdrop films, cute puppy dogs. On the home turf that is London, the accents are thick and furious from all over the world – I suppose this must be what seeing U2 in Dublin is like for some people – but also, that this, despite the numerous lineup changes, Depeche Mode have remained stable for the past 15 years and this, like latter period REM, is the same band albeit slightly different. Gahan has settled into his role : no longer the preening parody of drug-fired adrenalin he was, but someone who – especially as he has become the bands second songwriter and an artist with a brace of confident solo records behind him over the past decade – a better, more comfortable frontman, no longer obviously a mere throat for Martin Gore's songs. Reminiscent of Jagger without the look-at-me ego, Gahan knows also how to work a crowd, but – as during “Soothe My Soul”, and “World In My Eyes”, very happy to lean into the other musicians with a big fat grin on his face – at one point he even hugs Gore during a guitar solo. Who thought this would be Depeche Mode 2013, if there was ever going to be a Depeche in 2013?:
Fletch meanwhile – to the open mockery of some of the audience – doesn't do much. He spends most of the show gesturing with his hands and geeing himself up to press a button every couple of minutes, as well as waving, in short, he does nothing at all. “I put my left foot in, my left foot out....” - Alan Wilder.
Andy Fletcher never plays anything but wobbles around with his hands in the air. Laziest bastard in music. And, by the way, subject to a lot of pisstaking from the crowd. “Go on Fletch! Do ANYTHING!” is heard during a quiet post-song lull. During the songs meanwhile, he just bounces on the balls of his feet whilst gesturing to the crowd to make some noise. During “Just Can't Get Enough” - yes, they still play this – he manages to fudge his one finger bass solo on a specially set up keyboard he only plays once during the whole night.
*After the rest of the evening, which is exclusively from the pens of Gore and Gahan, “Just Can't Get Enough” seems like such a bizarre song that happened to be recorded by the same band with the same name in 1981, who split up and reformed some time in the mid 80's as a truly awesome act.
In the meantime, a baleful, sad border collie stares at us with huge brown eyes, whilst Gahan sings of Gore's divorce on the rebirth that was “Precious”. The first suprise of the night is when “Walking In My Shoes” is not played. Breaking thirty year protocol by changing setlist, the band play, unexpectedly “In Your Room”,: you might think them predictable, but there are thirteen songs in the set that have changed since they played here in 2010. and only 7 – that is less than a third – are repeated. It still feels like a greatest hits set thanks to their huge body of work (50 singles, for heavens sake), but – with “Policy Of Truth”, “Walking In My Shoes”, “It's No Good”, “Strangelove”, “Master And Servant”, “Blasphemous Rumours”, “Wrong”, “Stripped”, “A Question of Time”, “Everything Counts” (and 20 other hits) absent, it's testament to the richness of their work. That, and that by the fifth song - “Behind The Wheel” - the staid and reserved British crowd is, everyone on their feet, hands in the air, singing out of tune, and that counts for the new stuff as well, such as the stellar “Should Be Higher”, where Gahan sings with a elevation that hasn't attempted since “Condemnation”. Around me the crowd sing note and word-perfect songs that came out only 7 weeks ago. Love Is All I Want! For a man who has been dead more times than most, Gahan a man utterly in control of his gift and Gore have become a fluid and central core.
I'm not sure how I can explain what this does to me, but like all great music, it elevates me, removes me from the world, and makes me lose myself – or more accurately – find myself who was hidden under the sludge of reality over the years. No longer am I father, lover, brother, worker, but I am whomever I want to be, even if only for five minutes, because who I want to be, almost all of the time, is doing something like this : seeing a band I love and hearing music that changed me is something I want to do at least several hours a day, so for now, I am being who I want to be. Music is my Tardis. It takes me to a different world. That's all there is.
And then “World In My Eyes”, “Behind The Wheel”, “John The Revelator”, “Enjoy The Silence”, “Personal Jesus”, “Halo”, “Just Can't Get Enough”, “I Feel You”, “Never Let Me Down Again” are racing past, the audience to a man and woman – aged between 6 and 60 – seem to be on their feet and growing old through life together with this music as our companion. This will never happen again, these people, this night, this experience. This is us making our history. I Feel You, inside my mind. We may grow old, but we will never be old.
“Art, culture, music – this is the resistance.” - Peter Saville.