With great hits come great expectations. Depeche Mode have passed their 30th anniversary, positively ancient by today’s youthful EDM standards, but are still arguably the biggest electronic band in the world, remaining a dark constant throughout countless synth-pop revivals and transfigurations since their inception in 1980.
Their third sold-out O2 Arena gig of 2013 is taking place off the back of the lukewarmly received ‘Delta Machine’ (Clash review) – but when you’ve had as many hits as Depeche Mode have, your bulging back catalogue can work against you when plugging new material. When you get to this level, every night is a greatest hits gig.
Depeche Mode kinda refuse to play that game though, opening uncompromisingly with a ‘Delta Machine’ duo. It’s a low-key start, with the throbbing pulse and tuneless intro of ‘Welcome To My World’ looming over the crowd, muscles flexing menacingly, followed by the Nick Cave-like ‘Angel’, which creeps and stalks its way to a synthesised-blues chorus. Neither are crowd pleasers, but the band’s unwillingness to rest on past laurels is admirable.
Of course, fishing for gold in a Depeche Mode set is like shooting fish in a barrel. Soon enough, ‘Walking In My Shoes’ thunders into play, much less moody and far more vibrant than on record, frontman Dave Gahan grinning in a way that betrays his reputation as the overlord of gloomy electronica.
Later, a typically noirish ‘Precious’ sees a strangely poignant montage of various dogs on the screens as Martin Gore and Andy Fletcher layer on bubbling textures, forlorn piano motifs and New Order-recalling guitar splashes. And then, ‘Black Celebration’ and ‘Policy Of Truth’ smoulder with robotic, goth-metal soul.
Gore might have written the majority of Depeche Mode’s best-known songs, but it’s undisputedly Gahan who carries them. The times Gore is left alone on stage with only a piano for accompaniment during stripped-back solo spots on ‘The Child Inside’ and ‘But Not Tonight’ offer rare, albeit overwrought, fragility – but you can’t beat the thrill of seeing Gahan strut and pirouette across the stage, grabbing his own arse and gyrating against a mic stand, tight-trousered, black-vested and Cuban-heeled.
There are further airings of material from ‘Delta Machine’ as the night continues, but ultimately the crowd gets what its paid for: the lusty grind of ‘I Feel You’, a sleazy, stomping ‘Personal Jesus’, and bewitching brilliance of ‘Enjoy The Silence’, while the colourful zip of ‘I Just Can’t Get Enough’, arguably the track that least represents them as a band, gets the biggest cheer of the night.
These are amongst the most-loved and very best pop songs of the last four decades, and while the beating centre of Depeche Mode might be tarred black and very much machine made, who says that synthetic euphoria can’t make the human heart swell with joy?
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Words: Dannii Leivers
Photos: Andy Sturmey
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