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Sunday 25 June 2023

A View From The Back Of The Room: Depeche Mode (Live Review By Matt Bladen)

Depeche Mode & Young Fathers, Twickenham Stadium, 17.06.23

My first foray to Twickenham since watching Iron Maiden’s Somewhere Back In Time Tour in 2008 was to witness the kings of synth pop Depeche Mode (10) who happen to be my wife’s favourite band, of all time, ever. So as you can appreciate we were at “The Home Of English Rugby” pretty early, after sorting our hotel etc getting to the stadium (thank god for Uber), meeting friends and then queuing up to get in despite having seats. Once inside we got our bearings indulged in some food and a few very pricey beers and it was up into the stands for the show to begin.

Before we all could get our groove on though it was support act Young Fathers (5) who were first on stage. Trio of vocalists (well four really) front this band, and the music is a fusion of indie rock, soul and world music rhythms. All well and good if it wasn’t so badly mixed that the music was too loud for me, and I’ve been front row at Motorhead, the sheer volume meant you couldn’t hear the voices even if you wanted to. This left a lot of the crowd, including myself bewildered. A polite applause and they returned backstage as the anticipation increased and the stadium floor started to fill.

A minimal stage was unveiled with just the two keyboards now (more later), a drum set and mic stand all in front of a giant M as this was the tour to support their latest album Memento Mori. The tape of Speak To Me played, a roar went up and My Cosmos Is Mine from the new one began. Martin Gore on keys, flanked by long time live musicians Peter Gordeno (keys/bass/piano) and Christian Eigner (drums/keys), the song began waiting for frontman of frontmen Dave Gahan to arrive and we were off, the chalkboard video screen painting the M as that mid-range baritone crooned. From here it was another new one in Wagging Tongue, both greeted well, I noticed that the tracks from Memento Mori are much more suited to a boisterous live show than the ones on Spirit, played when we saw them at the London Olympic Stadium.

Still Walking In My Shoes got a bigger response as they dove into Ultra with It’s No Good and Sister Of The Night, Martin Gore moves his way between keys and guitar, defying the misnomer that Depeche Mode are a synth-pop band, I’d say they draw a much bigger influence from industrial/dance and rock music and have done for most of their career. I particularly liked the way they played a fair few songs that featured guitar solos, even the blueprint synth pop of Just Can’t Get Enough is played as a rock song. As one of my gig companions put it, their fanbase is very eclectic as goths rubbed shoulders with ravers, rockers with popsters, there seems to be broad crossover appeal for the band, obvious really when they only play stadiums.

The duo of In Your Room and Everything Counts, (a song for their merch prices maybe?) highlights what Gahan brings to the band, his voice is lustful, like poisoned honey to the ears inciting you to do bad things, his stage presence too is captivating be it the bedazzled waistcoats, the bravado or the perpetual motion, you can’t take your eyes off him. So much so it’s noticeable when he ducks backstage for a breather and Martin takes lead vocals on A Question Of Lust and Soul With Me. That’s not to discredit Martin at all, as his more fragile higher vocal adds emotion to these two ballads, a hush falling on the crowd as they sing along to every word. The beat kicking back in for Ghosts Again, a small costume change for Gahan and back to it.

Throbbing bass from Gordeno and electric/acoustic drum mix from Eigner driving the dark country of I Feel You and the remix of A Pain That I’m Used To which turns Twickenham into a massive club. With the dub still driving the beats, it was an emotional version of World In My Eyes that made sure there wasn’t a dry eye in the house as pictures of their fallen brother Andrew Fletcher came on the big screen. Dedicating the song to his memory, the shout of his name at the end from Gahan made sure to stop the momentum just before we raced to the end.

Yep it was nearing the close of the show so the big hitters were brought out, the gruff and abrasive Wrong followed by the pumping Stripped and John The Revelator, the seats nearly all standing and dancing, as they had be for most of the show to be honest, as that reverbed riff of Enjoy The Silence closed the main set. I could have left then a happy, happy man as this was the best I’d seen from Depeche Mode, but of course there was more to come. The four song encore starting with a brilliantly stripped back rendition of Waiting For The Night as Peter and Christian took to the keys and Dave and Martin sang in duet at the end of the stage ramp. This moment of beauty rapidly shifted into one of jubilance as the “dun dun du-dun du-du-du-dun” of Just Can’t Get enough belted through the venue PA (the sound was immaculate), making for shape throwing all over the place.

The last two songs were the mechanical Never Let Me Down Again (heard recently on The Last Of Us), Gahan’s line of “Taking a ride with my best friend” hitting a bit harder without Fletch on stage, as both Gore and Gahan are now in their 60's so you do wonder how much longer this ride will last? More grooves, more moves and the powerful riff of Personal Jesus made sure everyone went home happy. 

So often put in the category of being synth-pop, there is so much more to Depeche Mode, they’re more metal than many metal bands, I defy you not to get up and groove to at least one of their songs. On a Saturday in London, coming after the trooping of the colour, this was probably the most triumphant celebration you could have. A perfect demonstration of how to make an arena feel like a Berlin nightclub, I think next time a trip to Germany is in order to see them in front of their most rabid fanbase.

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