DEPECHE MODE Birmingham LG (NEC) 27 Jan 2014
You can tell when it's a good gig : Dave Gahan forget he's fifty four years old, and does that thing where he rotates on the spot using the microphone stand, like some kind of human spinning top. And he does that a lot tonight.
88 shows into their tour, and the final UK show – a one-off two months after the rest of the British dates, the only one in the UK for 2014, and the last UK show for a few years – sees the “Delta Machine” tour in Birmingham. For many, this is the goodbye to the tour : and thus, the crowd have the kind of fervour I generally only see in former Communist states – on their feet, singing every word (and often the 'live ad-libs' from the DVD's), with a boatload of Raise Your Fist And Yell!
Having formerly been known for three decades as the Birmingham NEC, this is the first time I have come here after the 'refit', which makes the NEC surprisingly contemporary in style. Rebranded as the LG, and thus, sponsored by a technology manufacturer, this cavernous room is just like it used to be. But better : wider, smaller, with lower ceilings, warmer. The miniscule standing section has been expanded, the miserly facilities (one tiny bar) blown out into a enormous food court the size of the venue itself behind us. We're in a huge exhibition centre, a shopping mall where there food court is enormous and the product being sold is arena rock. And, as this is a show, and a business, and thus show business, the band are on stage at 8.04pm, and finished by 10.05. We're on the 10.18 train, and into Birmingham in time for last orders. If I'd've known, I could have got the 22.20 to Euston and been in my own bed by 1.00am. But who knows?
At this point – some 35 years into their career – Depeche Mode straddle the line between some kind of electronic Bon Jovi / AC-DC / Rolling Stones, and Kraftwerk. At this point, the lineup – Andrew Fletcher (who eternally does nothing audible), Martin Gore who seems to take the Jimmy Page role, and Gahan as some kind of electronic Robert Plant, are aided by longstanding live musicians Peter Gordeno and human powerhouse drummer Christian Eigner (the latter two both having been in the band longer now than Alan Wilder) – have become a band at ease with this. Nor complacent with just playing all the old songs : whilst three 'new' songs shorter than the summer, there's still half an hour of new material, and the rarely performed “Slow” and new-for-this-tour “But Not Tonight”. But more than that, it all works well together. The new stuff – especially “Should Be Higher” - slots in effortlessly as if they have always been Depeche Mode songs. On “Should Be Higher” as well, Gahan sings better than I think he might ever have. It's surprising really how this band are still growing, and still powerful. Probably in fact, better than they have been at many points in the past. Sure, there's old stuff – the divine “Precious”, and the always cleansing “Walking In My Shoes” - which is probably the most humanly forgiving song I know. And, thankfully, Depeche bring back songs for each tour you may have have not heard often. As a result, there are moments “Black Celebration”, “Halo”, “A Pain That I Am Used To” - where I think this may be the last time I see these songs performed live. For all I know, this might be the last time I see this band.
Sadly tonight, there is no “Higher Love” (the song they have performed the most on this tour I have not yet seen). But there's more than enough to keep you satisfied. “Heaven” follows the Depeche Mode tradition of the 'crap first single'. Instead being a luxurious ballad, with a daft video. After this point, it's a solid greatest hits set, with the final hour being a non-stop attack : “A Pain That I Am Used To” turned the whole arena into a Daft-Punk-esque wall of solid white light and after that, it's a roar of the perverse “A Question Of Time”, complete with Andrew Fletcher playing the one-note bassline live. I know, I'm just jealous. It's a precise summary of a life of sin and synths. “Enjoy The Silence” is, as ever, a rampaging ten minute beast of perfectly formed gloom pop, aided by Dave Gahan's preening and crotch rubbing, the first drum solo I have seen at the NEC since my brother made me see Rush doing “YYZ” in 1992, and followed by the crowd-teasing roar of “Personal Jesus”. (This by 9.31pm).
Encore time, and it's both predictable and glorious. Like going to see a James Bond film, you sort of know what goings to happen next, even if you don't know exactly. Thus, there's Martin's acoustic “Shake The Disease”, the glorious Goldfrapp-remix of “Halo”, and the triple punch of “Just Can't Get Enough”, “I Feel You”, and “Never Let Me Down Again.” You should never be afraid of your past : how else will you know how you got where you are today? Thus, Gahan dances and works the crowd, and he likes it. Few frontmen seem as comfortable with their role, one Gahan has grown into, and Gore also looks as if playing “Just Can't Get Enough” is almost enjoyable. Certainly the crowd is the liveliest I have seen in the UK in a very long time. It's not even 10pm, and time for the last song : during “Never Let Me Down Again”, for example, Peter Gordeno interrupts a keyboard solo to point out the crowd, the long standing tradition of a sea of hands, waving in the breeze like leaves like in the wind, and I always always do this, I always look around. I want to see this : every time. Thousands of hands swaying. Because there's only so many chances you can get to do this, to experience this. Life is for feeling, for living. I wouldn't miss it for anything in the world.
welcome to my world
walking in my shoes
should be higher
policy of truth
but not tonight
behind the wheel
a pain I am used to
a question of time
enjoy the silence
shake the disease
just cant get enough
I feel you
never let me down again.