DEPECHE MODE – Stadium Spirit

The Mighty Mode deliver a powerful London performance…

London Stadium, Saturday 3rd June 2017

It’s a mild Saturday afternoon and I’m following a vast throng of Depeche Mode fans into the former Olympic Stadium; the setting for triumphant UK athletes such as Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis (who both enjoyed Gold Medal success in 2012). These days, the newly-named London Stadium’s current tenants are West Ham United (which, bizarrely, anagrams as ‘the new stadium’) and the impressive arena serves as the venue for Depeche Mode’s biggest ever UK show, with over 80,000 excited 40-somethings in attendance. It’s the thirteenth stop on the Global Spirit tour, which kicked off in Stockholm on the 5th May. “It will be the first time we’ve played a proper stadium here for a long time” Martin Gore tells The Guardian.

It’s my first Depeche Mode in concert since the Touring The Angel shows in 2005, and it’s only by the chance of a competition win that I find myself perched just over the halfway line, with a large merchandise stand either side of me (I sensibly pass on the chance to buy an over-priced £30 t-shirt). Support is provided by Southend-on-Sea’s resident shoegazers, The Horrors, who have released four albums to date. With no new album to promote (2014’s Luminous is their most recent), their support slot seemingly functions as a showcase for their not-wholly-original repertoire of Gothic space rock. It’s an enjoyable enough set though, albeit a little too bassy to these ears.

Anticipation builds to the Basildon rocker’s entrance. Cavalcades of beer drinkers politely edge their way past and cigarettes are seemingly sucked down to their filters before the opening bars of The Beatles’ ‘Revolution’ cascade through the stadium’s PA. It’s 8:15 and the band take to the stage, against a black backdrop that reveals a diminutive pair of marching feet that gradually increase in size. The band launch into ‘Going Backwards’, the opening track on this year’s well-received Spirit album (see TEC’s review here). Singer Dave Gahan, resplendent in black waistcoat and a red jacket, sets the tone with a series of powerful lyrical couplets: “We’re going backwards, armed with new technology,” he sings. “Going backwards, to a caveman mentality.” It’s a perfect start to the show, and the momentum is sustained with the tight, two-chord electro thrust of ‘So Much Love’; its repetitive chorus prompting the first of many singalongs amongst the enthusiastic multinational crowd.

By the time of third number ‘Barrel Of A Gun’, Gahan has shed his jacket, while Gore has strapped on his custom-built star-shaped guitar, duly grinding out the song’s dirty licks. Somewhat disappointingly, Gahan’s vocals are off-key and not even a snatch of Grandmaster Flash’s landmark hit ‘The Message’ in the coda can rescue it. Thankfully normal service is resumed on ‘A Pain That I’m Used To’. Utilising the template of the excellent ‘Jacques Lu Cont’ remix, resident multi-instrumentalist Peter Gordeno switches to bass, giving the track a fluidity missing from the album version, while Gahan visibly loosens up and cavorts the stage with a chicken-like strut.

The pace slows once more to ‘Corrupt’, a largely forgettable plodder from 2009’s Sounds Of The Universe, before a powerful version of the brooding, bona fide classic ‘In Your Room’ – in its superior album version – puts the show back on track with its spine-tingling chord changes. Gahan orchestrates the crowd to sing its key line “Will I always be here”. The crowd are firmly on side… and Gahan knows it. On ‘World In My Eyes’, an increasingly confident Gahan partakes in a series of struts, bum wiggles and crotch grabs (seriously, Dave?), before taking a somewhat undignified splat towards the back of stage. There’s a quick ear monitor adjustment off-stage and Gahan finishes the song, before exchanging smiles with a rather bemused Gore.

The Bowie-influenced ‘Cover Me’ affords Gahan the opportunity to display the more soulful side of his baritone as he ponders life on other planets (“I dreamt of us in another life/ One we’ve never reached”). The undoubted highlight of Spirit, the suitably chilling Anton Corbijn visuals provide the perfect backdrop. Gahan milks the applause as he takes a rare walk down the stage catwalk during the stunning ‘Clean’-esque climax, emitting a huge smile as the otherworldly song ends.

It’s Gore’s chance to shine next on Black Celebration’s beautiful ballad ‘A Question Of Lust’. The fragility and vulnerability in Gore’s rich and tremulous vocal (enriched by a stark piano arrangement from Gordeno), endear the crowd to the master songwriter. And, on a rare full-band version of ‘Home’, the crowd are on fine form as Gore and the rest of the band orchestrate some lovely harmonies at the end. “You are the best!” says a returning Gahan.

Spirit is further represented with a brace of tracks. Gore has hailed ‘Poison Heart’ as Gahan’s best song but, in truth, it’s a rather pedestrian effort that falls rather flat tonight. ‘Where’s The Revolution?’, fares better, with its rallying cry of “Come on people, you’re letting me down.” It’s the band’s newest anthem, perfectly pitched in today’s political climate. Whilst its studio counterpart suffers from a shambolic production, in concert it’s far more effective, and there’s thankfully a smoother transition from verse to chorus. ‘Wrong’, meanwhile, sees the band revert to a more conventional synth-pop format, with its mid-tempo electro-glam fizz perfectly complementing Gore’s smart wordplay.

The arrival of ‘Everything Counts’ in the set is met with a downpour, but it doesn’t last; and nothing can dampen the crowd’s spirit as the band launch into a brilliant extended version of the politically-infused 1983 classic. Gore bashes out the song’s memorable synth motif, and the crowd respond with an enthusiastic singalong. Gore remains on keyboard duties during a faithful version of ‘Stripped’, before the band bring out the big guns once again with a supreme version of the Violator classic ‘Enjoy The Silence’. Gore effortlessly picks out the melodic riff on his Gretsch guitar, and there’s a harmonious blend of electronics and funky guitars as the track builds to its climax. The band are on fire, and their good form is consolidated with a euphoric, arm-waving finale of ‘Never Let Me Down Again’.

In the encore, Gore and Gordeno reunite once more for an emotional ‘Somebody’, before they’re joined by the rest of the band for a fine run-through of set staple ‘Walking In My Shoes’. The surprise of the night arrives courtesy of a cover of David Bowie’s ubiquitous hit “Heroes”, backdropped by a huge black flag. The band aren’t renowned for covering songs but, in terms of the history of the band, it makes total sense (fans will know that Vince Clarke invited Gahan to join the band in 1980 after seeing him perform the song during a jam session).

The two-hour plus show ends with a blistering double-header of synth rock. An extended ‘I Feel You’, replete with some bombastic drumming from Christian Eigner, is paired with the riff-heavy tour-de-force that is ‘Personal Jesus’, crowning the evening with style.

There’s a sad postscript as the rapturous fans begin to filter out of the auditorium; word soon gets round of the latest terror atrocities occurring just miles away, but it doesn’t detract from what’s been a superb show. The material from Spirit hasn’t dominated the set as I’d feared, and there was a good balance of crowd-pleasers and newer material. The visuals are interesting (if a little distracting at times – see ‘In Your Room’), and the sound is good, with plenty of clarity in the vocal mix. It’s not perfect by any means, but they’ve certainly reaffirmed my love for this great band.

Set list: Going Backwards / So Much Love / Barrel Of A Gun / A Pain That I’m Used To / Corrupt / In Your Room / World In My Eyes / Cover Me / A Question Of Lust / Home / Poison Heart / Where’s The Revolution? / Wrong / Everything Counts / Stripped / Enjoy The Silence / Never Let Me Down Again / Somebody / Walking In My Shoes / “Heroes” / I Feel You / Personal Jesus

Depeche Mode resume their UK tour in November:

November 15 – Dublin, Ireland – 3Arena
November 17 – Manchester, UK – Manchester Arena
November 19 – Birmingham, UK – Barclaycard Arena
November 22 – London, UK – O2 Arena

Thanks to Sara Page. Photos used with the kind permission of Orac and Electronically Yours

Barry Page