There’s a definite air of expectation in the air throughout the LG Arena tonight as one of the world’s most legendary bands returns to Birmingham as part of their Tour Of The Universe. Almost 14,000 people are here to see the mighty Depeche Mode and, if past performances are anything to go by, we’re in for a special night.
First off though there’s the surprising but welcome appearance of tonight’s support band, Soulsavers. Fronted by the enigmatic Mark Lanegan, they deliver a stellar set of gritty, brooding rock n roll which goes down surprisingly well with Depeche Mode’s audience. With a group of black-clad, accomplished musicians behind him, Lanegan does little to entertain the crowd before him except use his unique voice and a superb set of songs, choosing to remain almost motionless for the entire time he’s on stage.
Pulling material from this year’s “Broken” album as well as 2007’s “It’s Not How Far You Fall, It’s the Way You Land”, the band do what they do superbly without any showiness, just great songs and slick musicianship.
While millions of people at home await the result of the X Factor final and 3000 people fill the Academy for Marilyn Manson, a capacity crowd inside the LG Arena is only interested in one name – Depeche Mode. Having sold over 75 million albums worldwide, the band remain one of the most influential groups in music history and have a fiercely loyal fan base who regularly travel huge distances to see them play live.
Kicking things off with “In Chains” from their latest album, Dave Gahan, Martin Gore, Andrew Fletcher and their touring bandmates play before an enormous, dazzling video wall which illuminated the entire stage. Gahan is a striking frontman, pulling shapes and toying with his audience like a true showman. He’s also in fantastic shape for someone a couple of years off being 50!
The first three songs of the set are the first three songs from the new album and all sound great but it was always gonna be the older tunes which received the biggest response. The first of those is “Walking In My Shoes” which is followed by “It’s No Good” and then…
Ok, here’s my big problem with Depeche Mode, and I may be upsetting a large chunk of the devotees here, but I know I’m not alone in this. In many ways, there are two very different bands on show tonight. Firstly, there’s the classic, dark, menacing, mighty band fronted by Dave Gahan. Then there’s another band which plays while Dave disappears backstage. Martin Gore takes over on vocals and the music loses every inch of its vitality in my opinion. My friend, who is at the gig, says the songs Gore sings on sound like Broadway show tunes or something written by Andrew Lloyd Webber. And I agree. Whereas I love the band with Gahan, I’m thoroughly bored when Gore takes over vocal duties. “Insight” and “Home” seem to go down well with the majority of the crowd, but I know I’m not the only one who’s simply watching politely until Dave Gahan returns.
When he does return, for “World In My Eyes”, the show gets back into gear and all is well again with the world. It’s not long before the classics start to roll in. “I Feel You” sounds immense and sees Dave & Martin headbanging in unison. It looks a bit silly, to be honest. An extended version of “Enjoy The Silence” shows Depeche Mode at their finest and has the entire crowd moving and singing as Gahan gazes out from the end of the walkway which stretches into the front of the audience.
Only one song could really follow that and it is, for me, the ultimate Mode tune – “Never Let Me Down”. Anyone who has witnessed this song live will know how spectacular it is, as Gahan leads his followers in a simultaneous arm waving ritual in time with the music. It’s an amazing site!
The encore sees another dull offering with Gore on vocal duties before “Stripped” brings Dave back to show how it’s done. The contrast could not be more striking as the opening chords lead us into another dramatic and epic tune. And then, two full hours from them appearing on stage, “Personal Jesus” closes another fantastic Depeche Mode live show.
The band are about to celebrate 30 years in the business. They’ve come a long way since “New Life” but, on tonight’s performance, there seems to be plenty of life left in them yet.
1. In Chains
3. Hole to Feed
4. Walking in My Shoes
5. It’s No Good
6. A Question of Time
8. World In My Eyes
11. Miles Away
12. Policy of Truth
13. In Your Room
14. I Feel You
15. Enjoy the Silence
16. Never Let Me Down Again
17. Dressed In Black
19. Behind the Wheel
20. Personal Jesus
Review & Photos – Steve Gerrard