A Black Celebration
Well this was never going to be an ordinary Depeche Mode gig…
Firstly, it was a one-off charity show in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust. And secondly, it was held at London’s iconic venue, the Royal Albert Hall. With a capacity of 5,500, this is a relatively intimate venue for DM, who sold it out in a cool four minutes. No wonder expectations were running high!
Inside the venue was a remarkable sight, with five tiers of black-clad DM fans stretching up into the gods. Many had travelled from outside the UK to be there; as well as a Union Jack draped over a balcony, I spotted flags from Luxembourg, Switzerland and Ireland. There’s nothing like a DM gig to promote European relations!
Before the band took to the stage, The Who’s Roger Daltrey came on to talk about the Teenage Cancer Trust, of which he is a patron. He also said some kind words about Depeche Mode: “Every generation throws up its icons… but only a few stand the test of time. This band stand as tall today as they ever did.” Then, as the techno intro tape started playing and the DM logo began to roll across the giant sphere, anticipation mounted.
The show got off to a low-key start with ‘In Chains’, the opening track from the Sounds Of The Universe album and tour. In fact, for the first few tracks the show played out like one of the regular tour dates, albeit in a rather special setting. However, about half way through the set, the surprises began.
As Martin Gore prepared for his solo set, a seven-piece string section took to the stage. There followed spine-tingling renditions of ‘One Caress’ and ‘Home’, with orchestral string accompaniment befitting the grand venue. The set received a rapturous reception, and the crowd singalong that followed ‘Home’ went on for so long that the band started jamming along to it! Dave Gahan then retained the string section for Sounds Of The Universe album track ‘Come Back’.
Now the party really started. As the chorus to ‘Policy Of Truth’ kicked in, hundreds of coloured balloons seemed to appear out of nowhere and went bouncing madly around the audience. Martin and Dave seemed to visibly relax and bounced along with them. A powerhouse of a set ensued, with ‘In Your Room’, ‘I Feel You’ and ‘Enjoy The Silence’ delivered at full tilt, reminding those present just how awesome DM really are and why they can still sell out a stadium at the drop of a hat. Christian Eigner’s frenetic drumming on ‘I Feel You’ was particularly stunning and sounded like thunder rumbling around the Royal Albert Hall. Finally, ‘Never Let Me Down Again’, which closed the main set, saw five tiers of DM fans waving their arms in the air, all mirrored on the big screen to spectacular effect.
Could tonight get any better?
As it turned out, yes it could. When Martin returned for an encore, he announced “a very special guest, for the first time in 16 years”, and 5,500 fans erupted as Alan Wilder walked onto the stage. The roar of delight was immense, and throughout the venue there were people in tears and hugging each other. This was a moment so many fans had wished for, but few believed would ever happen. So, on this very special night, we were treated to ‘Somebody’, with piano accompaniment from Alan Wilder. When the song was over Alan embraced both Martin and Fletch before leaving the stage. Could this signal his return to the fold? We can but dream.
Even Dave seemed touched when he came back to the stage. “What a magical moment” he quipped, before closing the epic setlist with ‘Stripped’; a surprise airing of ‘Photographic’, and the roof-raising finale ‘Personal Jesus’.
Tonight was no ordinary DM gig. It was a celebration of the band’s 30 year history, and maybe a hint at their future. In the ‘glory years’ during which Alan Wilder was on board, there were undoubtedly strained relationships within the band, but it was arguably this creative tension that resulted in a string of DM’s classic and best loved albums. There is a general consensus that DM’s output has suffered as a result of Alan’s departure, with 2009’s underwhelming album Sounds Of The Universe a low point for many fans.
Since his surprise appearance at the Teenage Cancer Trust concert, speculation about Alan Wilder’s return to Depeche Mode has intensified. Wilder was quoted in the UK press as saying “It was nice to see the lads again. I’ve had a lot of good feedback… I wouldn’t rule it out happening again in the future.” In October, Martin Gore played a DJ set at Alan Wilder’s Recoil gig in Santa Barbara, and Dave Gahan was in attendance at the New York show, adding further weight to rumours of a reconciliation. Finally, a Depeche Mode remix album is planned for the New Year, and one of the key contributors is none other than Alan Wilder.
Whilst a full scale reunion of the band is still unlikely, the possibility of Wilder producing a future DM release is perhaps more plausible. It is certainly an exciting prospect. Could 2011 bring the news Depeche Mode fans have been waiting for? Nothing’s impossible…
But as I made my way home through London on that freezing February night, I felt very glad to be a devotee.
The Tour Of The Universe DVD/CD is released by Mute Records