DEPECHE MODE Glasgow Barrowlands 26 March 2017
On the heels of another album, their 14th, Depeche Mode return to Glasgow's legendary Barrowlands for their smallest show to a paying audience since 1988 – and their first here in 33 years. It's a very different band now from then, and a very different world. In that gap, Depeche Mode have become seasoned, and mature miserable stadium headliners, released ten albums, and the idea of them ever playing anywhere as small as this ever again seems to have vanished to a distant speck on the horizon.
So this is the best Depeche Mode show I've seen in 27 years of seeing them. It's the smallest, but also, the most... fervent.
Enough hyperbole about exclusivity. Depeche Mode are a band that some people love more than food, or their cat. This is one of those shows which will be etched in legend as, for fans of the band, you hadda be there. This isn't a wet Wednesday in a 3/4's full stadium in Portugal that that's just another day at work for some millionaires and an extra room in the mansion.
This is also the beginning of a long tour, and a public birth for most of the upcoming tour : the four songs from Spirit are new and barely a week old. It's also a determindedly forward looking set : for a band with 39 years history, only a third of the set comes from their alleged bulletproof phase that ended when Dave Gahan died for the second time in an ambulance or when Alan Wilder left the group in 1995. Two thirds of the set comes from the last half of their work : and not many bands can really say that – and none it feels like it doesn't belong. Some bands, after all, desperately shoehorn subpar newer material – long after the muse has evaporated – in an attempt to stay relevant. Others actually write new songs that reflect what it is like to be older, wiser, here and now but from there & then, and make those songs useful and meaningful, about aging in a young world. And those songs don't suck. And those songs belong with the others.
The newer stuff tonight - “Going Backwards”, “So Much Love”, “Cover Me” and “Where's The Revolution?” feel like they could have been made at near enough any point in the bands history, but with a clear line to now, and like the only new stuff that should exist, it sounds like there is a point to these songs. They are angry, socially conscious songs that don't tell us how to think, but explain how many of us feel. There's a sense of these songs, lyrically, being caught in a transition, of the outside world forcing its way in. The urgency underpins the music – unlike previous records, Spirit seems emboldened with an urgency that some of the other albums don't quite have. It's in every second of the album, and the songs seems connected in a way that sometimes, the abstract musing of well-off rich people don't quite have.
And there's a moment in “Cover Me” that even after less than two weeks in the world, I know will always cut to me in a way : I dreamt of us in another life – one we've never quite reached. We all, sadly, probably know that feeling.
Of the other songs, “Barrel Of A Gun” and “Home” are greeted with warmth – it has been a while since either was a setlist fixture – and “Corrupt” is played for the fourth time ever (which is baffling). There's also a sleek, streamlined revisit for “A Pain That I Am Used To”, played in a compelling and urgent remixed fashion. Aside from the one drunk tosser who doesn't seem to grasp there's a bit of dancing at a Depeche Mode gig, everyone is in high, friendly spirits, and the crowd is the liveliest I have seen in ages. Barrowlands deserves a legendary reputation.
Barrowlands is also the smallest paying Depeche gig in 29 years : the audience then aren't just people going to see a band.
They are people who are going to see this band – and travelled a long way to do so.
Many gigs have a problem with their audience to be honest : many of them don't want to be here, or they're here in dragged-along-husband/wife/significant-other capacity. Some of the crowd are always here because it's something to do. Others because they like – not love – the band, and this is the only time they see them. Finally, sometimes, it's people there because someone else can't go, or because their so incredibly drunk they don't know which way is up. But for tonight, I would say 99% of the 1800 capacity crowd are here because they love Depeche Mode, they want to be here, and they know how rare a show like this is.
All of my friends who are there – 8 of us – have come from England to see them : [also, judging from the number of accents and Depeche Mode shirts there are at the airport, there's a lot of tourism in town tonight]
It's a long way from seeing the band as it was 25 years ago, but times change, we change, the world changes.
Alan Wilder has moved on, and the core trio who first played together in a bedroom thirty nine years ago are still here, school friends made successful artists, and businessmen (I hesitate to call the 'rock stars', because they aren't), aided by Christian Eigner on drums, and Peter Gordeno on keyboards/bass, both marking 20 years since they joined the live incarnation of Depeche Mode. It's a different incarnation than popular history tells you, but it's as authentic a version of the band as any other.
The closing strata of the set is a mini Greatest Hits set, with the ever glorious “Walking In My Shoes”, the urgent “Personal Jesus” and a final “Enjoy The Silence” - which, like all the best songs, seems to cover all human emotions at once : joy and sadness, pain and bliss. It may be the smallest Mode show in a long time, and one of the shortest, but given that they are just returning after a three year absence from playing live, and a way yet from the arenas and stadiums that they normally breathe in, but Depeche Mode at the Barrowlands shows that whilst everything seems to change, nothing changes, and when all the video screens and fancy staging is stripped away, they're still a band that with passion and conviction, still trying new things and exploring eternal themes, still worth paying attention to, still important and exciting, and eschewing nostalgia and global stadium karaoke. Not forgetting where they've been, nor going backwards, but hoping to go forwards. Believe me, if they were crap, I'd tell you. And I could name bands that have gone crap. But well, there's nothing to be gained by doing so exactly at this moment.
And whilst the eye of television programmes and game shows may have moved on from Depeche Mode, they've instead just become probably the things most bands aspire : self-sufficient, fully realised, operating on their own terms of engagement, and still producing songs of worth.
Or, of course, you can just dance your socks off and sing along : I'll join you.
So Much Love
A Pain That I Am Used To
World In My Eyes
Where's The Revolution
Barrel Of A Gun
Walking In My Shoes
Enjoy The Silence