DEPECHE MODE Global Spirit Tour : Nice, Charles De Erhmann Stade 12 May 2017
Every Depeche Mode review I do now, I talk about the passing of time. They were the first 'proper' band I saw. How I was a carcrash child at 17, in Block 11 of the Birmingham NEC, and yet, somehow, all this time later, I'm still seeing them. How I'm still the same person I was then; but better.
When I was younger, I felt acutely the exclusion of youth. Like this band? Well, you can't see them. You can't afford the records. You can't participate. You – outside, away, not involved. And these weren't crazy, unrealistic dreams, like wanting a goddamn yacht and feeling the injustice of normality. I simply had to consume voraciously and devour what little I could be part of.
Some people get their kicks on Route 66. Others by sportball. Me? I live the life I hungered for when I was a kid : being able to go somewhere. Being able to see a world beyond my street, not marrying the girl next door, not working at the Chocolate Factory and not taking the first options life gave me. Going to somewhere abroad, to see a band I love? When I was 17, that was about as realistic to me as being The First Man On Mars.
And so, we meet at a bus stop on a French Riveria. The old routine, of having to be at an airport two hours before the flight is tedious and boring. Wait here, queue there. Documents and papers. Unpack your bag. Laptop out. Phone off. Christ, what utter tedium this security theatre is. Take off your belt. Wait 10 minutes. This is why I hate flying ; the unproductive, dead time as Human Cattle. It's why, if the train is under four hours, I always take the train. Any longer than four hours, and well, flying is probably quicker.
Going to Nice is a little odd. The French Riveria, as it is, is a place I thought couldn't be actually real. Sure, I'd heard of it, but it's a strange place. With all due respect, aside from weather, and incredibly rich people's homes, I'm not sure exactly what it has in it. There's food, and there's wine, and there's all the other stuff, but I don't really know what there is here. It's like a place with the personality surgically extracted from it. It's beautiful but boring. Then again, I feel like I am and will be a Londoner forever – even if I was forced out by the absurd monetisation and brutal exploitation of the basic human need to have somewhere to sleep, whereby space became an asset to be sweated by the rich. For 12 years, I commuted to the town I couldn't live in, and spent (by my estimation) around £54,000 and 8,855 hours because some rich fucker had a portfolio of properties he wanted to rent out for profit.
Money doesn't talk, of course. It swears. Everything counts, in large amounts.
"Leftwing and poor? = Politics of Envy
Leftwing and rich? = Champagne Socialist Hypocrite."
(as Matt Beestonian probably said)
We take the bus to Eze, up through gorgeous hills and mountains that go above the crowd line. We walk through a mountain top village, then take a battered and ruined path down several thousand feet to the beach. We stand on the sand next to Bono's house : I don't know quite why, except that, whilst we're here, we might as well, because I've never been here before. And won't ever be again. Even though he's not here ; the tax dodger is in Vancouver launching another tour.
It is a once in a lifetime experience, for me, to walk down a mountain to a beach though : to take the train to Monte Carlo. Or Monaco. Or whatever it is called. And in Monte Carlo, the money drips invisibly in the air. In every step. This individual country, this secular paradise of affluence. This land of stone, steel, glass, and low taxes. This place was a mythical paradise of ice cream, of boats, of legs and racing cars, when I was younger. A land that couldn't be real. Couldn't really exist.
So we walked alongside the viewing stands for the Grand Prix ; and it looks just like it did on TV, but now it's real. And much taller. We walk through the bay of millionaires and billionaires yachts. The money is there. The names are meaningless. The places of registration baffling. (Georgetown, anyone?). It's a life I will never see. Maybe even one I'm not sure I'd want to. But it's superreal : a heightened version of reality. You can, after all, buy special share trading options packages so you can make millions whilst sitting on a yacht named after a Greek God, moving money around from one place to another. Money, and the accumulation of it, has become a game. You need not worry about any of the basics anymore : you will always have enough money for a great standard of living, for a roof over your head, a meal in your belly, a car on your drive. It's now no longer about the mere security of survival, but the status. The biggest car, the largest berth, the nicest view and the most bedrooms. It's meaningless though. You can become addicted to chasing money, not life. Chasing your own inadequacy, trying to be more when really... once you are past your first £10m, it doesn't matter. So I am told.
(Incidentally, Nice Airport has the largest and most expensive private jet in the world parked there).
I would laugh at the politics of envy. Sure, I wouldn't mind being rich, but not at the expense of changing who I am. My idea of rich isn't a yacht or chasing status. Imagine being so furious at having never to have work again, having your own yacht, and having prosperity beyond that puts you inside the top thousandth of richest people in the world, and it's still not enough to come second place in a race of billions?
It's bizarre. And, as I turn a corner, I remember. This strait. This tunnel, that I have memorised from a thousand laps of an arcade game whose name I can't recall (GTI Club!) in the Pot of Beer in Aston, Birmingham, and I'm walking down a road I have only have seen on a pixelated arcade screen yet memorised. I have to take my foot off the accelerator and glide through this corner, by muscle memory. These bends made of legend. Accelerate, brake, turn into the corner.
A hundred yards away come the bends. And at the top of that hill, the famed Casino (that, by the way, has a pivotal role in Pixar's Cars-2, so I half expect a haunted Popemobile to pass me). Roger Moore's house is somewhere near here ; but he died between the moment and the writing. Monaco is crowded and it just doesn't seem that nice (to be honest), or that cultured. There's money and luxury, but it seems there's little heart here. What there is is an abundance of low tax schemes and accountants. There's an emptiness, replaced instead by an accumulation of wealth. Most places I go to have some kind of soul : I'm not sure Monte Carlo did.
The train takes us back to Nice. We pass Eze, and Bono's house. We skirt the sea. We land back in Nice, and make our way to the Charles De Ehrmann Stadium. As a stadium it is a bizarre and beautiful venue : uniquely configured for indoor or outdoor shows, with a removable wall : face one way, and the band are inwards to a smaller indoor arena. Face the other way, and move the back wall, and the band face out into a huge outdoor atrium designed for sporting events and a racetrack. It's a lovely place to be.
So the sun sets, planes fly overhead, and Depeche Mode perform a show very like the one I saw six weeks prior in Glasgow (just with more songs). As is often the way, they indulge themselves* with new material, and old. It's more than half way, and 13 songs in, before they enter the predictable greatest hits part : and of those first 13 songs, 10 of them are from the most recent half of their career – the era perceived to be the bit where “Alan Left And Now They're A Bit Rubbish”. The new songs fit just as well as anything else into the work, and seem almost exclusively as good as the older ones. But every band's later material suffers slightly, as the thrill of the new has paled slightly. Sure, the audience perks up for “World In My Eyes”, but it's a quick and short thrill before the audience deflates slightly with the new stuff.
In the stadium context, these new songs are tolerated by the huge crowd : who appear to be waiting patiently for some great reward of the songs that remind them of their youth. I understand 'tuning out' of bands as you grow older. As the listener, we might change direction whilst the band carry on, or we might grow apart. Certainly I've lost touch with some bands ; but they weren't very good to start with.
It's refreshing to see a band not beholden merely to the hits of the ancient past. Like every band, there are a handful of big hitters that would upset the customers if not played. And Depeche aren't exactly Pearl Jam : the first 18 shows of this tour had an identical setlist. It's a machine of delivering emotions and music that has been finely tuned over the past 35 years.
Personally, I might not like “Poison Heart” (but I understand why other people do). Every song is accompanied by a visual identity that matches the song.
[* slightly, the new ones are very good, just not very familiar]
The best bands are the ones that we grow older with. The ones who map our changing time on the planet : not the ones frozen forever in amber as a pop fossil from 1981. Sure, much as I and many others would like a more varied setlist with more older songs in (but not all of them, “A Photograph of You” was always a rubbish song). Depeche Mode have managed to become the kind of band that know what people want, and strive to provide it, as much as they reasonably can. We can't get into a time machine and go back to 1990, so recognising how we got here will be as good as it can be : the hits are all present and show that on stage, Depeche Mode are a very different band from on record : a powerful, rocky behemoth selling convincing pre-packaged introspection. These are songs written in small rooms about emotions, played in football stadiums about the size of a small town.
It ends (near enough) where it started. David Gahan's first audition for the band was singing Bowie's “Heroes” in a small room in Basildon in 1979. Tonight, the band play the same song in tribute to David Bowie : in a stadium on the French Riveria. It's a long way from home. No matter where we are, never forget who you have been and where you have come from.
So Much Love
Barrel of A Gun
Pain That I Am Used To
In Your Room
World In My Eyes
A Question Of Lust
Where's The Revolution
Enjoy The Silence
Never Let Me Down Again
Walking In My Shoes
I Feel You