Thursday, 27 June 2013

28th May 2013: Depeche Mode / How To Dress Well - The O2 Arena, London

Part 3 of my 4-gig week and my 3rd attempt at reviewing something in 500 words. I think I wrote 500 words about the support- sorry.

You could be forgiven for thinking that I only listen to progressive rock music. Or even, rock music. Looking down through the list of old entries here does make me look like an ever older, fartier old fart than I actually am. The truth is, that I've spent ages reviewing newer, "dancier" acts (Cut Copy, M83, The Invisible) before now, but I don't move in cool enough circles for them to get much interest.

Still, there's a rich seam of synthpop and electronica hitting London over the next few weeks, and across my next 3 gigs I will see a sum total of 3 instruments with strings - all of which are here this evening; Depeche Mode being one of those bands that straddles the electro and rock genres like the Basildon colossi that they are.

Gig buddies tonight (and not biddies, as I just accidentally typed) are Tinyfish Bassplayer Paul and his wife Helen (Queen of the Apiary), who's something of a synthpop nut and has dragged "'Im indoors" along to see what all the fuss is about. Being a musician, he's also a useful person to have about at a gig, since we're too late to get close to the stage, so he suggests we plonk ourselves down in front of the mixing desk for optimal sound, and we end up standing on top of the remnants of the other night's Rush gig.

Um, what is that we're nearly putting our feet in? Yes, I thought so...

Support tonight is from Tom Krell, aka...

How to Dress Well

...who play what I remember as "Ethereal R&B", singing quite soulful vocals into two microphones at once (one more reverby than the other), while a chap on stage right twiddles knobs. Together they produce some fun, jaunty tunes like '& It Was U', as well as some much more sombre material like the beautiful 'Suicide Dream 1', where knobs-man picks up a violin and Tom gives an extremely heartfelt vocal performance which steers just on the correct side of "boyband". The songs are accompanied by sometimes interesting and sometimes downright bizarre video material; the scene which seems to be a man putting on and taking off an avocado facepack for an unspecified reason is a particular highlight.

The last song is quite anthemic, and I can imagine it going down very well in a small club or on an outdoor terrace in summer but in this cavernous arena it gets lost slightly. Ultimately, the crowd are waiting for Depeche Mode and haven't really been prepared to put in as much attention as is required, but these guys are definitely worth a listen at home. A commentator on Youtube suggests that "this is some baby making music" so that probably tells you all you need to know.

The main event is on its way, so it's time to head to the bar and pick up our rock and roll order of "3 waters", which takes a ridiculous length of time thanks to the most annoyingly generous man ever at the bar, who runs up an £80 bill two drinks at a time - firstly for his companions, then the lady he nearly punches in the face, then the people who are getting annoyed at him being at the bar for 25 minutes... All of which means that by the time I return, it's nearly time for...

Depeche Mode

...who make a fairly convincing argument this evening for the possibility of being a rock band without guitars (except when they feel like it), and also for bands from the '80s still managing to create relevant new music in the '10s.

Depeche Mode are another band, like Rush the other day, who I've only recently discovered (I know, I'm so on the pulse...) so it's testament to the quality of new album 'Delta Machine' that they manage to play three quarters of it tonight and not have it stick out like a sore Essex thumb (with a garishly bejewelled fingernail on the end, perhaps).

Kicking off with the one-two of album opener 'Welcome to My World', and current single 'Angel', is a pretty obvious statement of intent - this is no nostalgia show, and even when they reach further back into their bag of tricks, it's with a renewed sense of vigour and purpose. 'Walking in My Shoes' is suitably dark and menacing, and 'Policy of Truth' prompts Dave "I really ought to be dead" Gahan to start the first of many little bolero dances he undertakes this evening in his stunning combo of leather waistcoat and bare chest. I wouldn't recommend it for most of the bands I see, but he is a genuine rock star, commanding the entire venue by his very presence even when he's not singing.

Which is just as well, since he's rather fond of the old "get the crowd to sing the chorus" trick. So much so that he uses it again and again, certainly for the giant singalong classics. The problem with this is that Dave's got a deceptively low voice, and I don't know if you've ever tried to sing very low and very loudly but it usually involves soiling yourself, if it works at all, and is mostly quite impossible. The net result is that some of the best-loved songs this evening ('Question of Time', 'Enjoy the Silence') are essentially chorus-less, which is a bit disappointing. Still, there are plenty of pretty things to look at while we listen to the crowd trying to sing along in the style of Wookies.

Like this!

And this!

And some cute dogs. And the band wearing and swapping a variety of hats. And lights which come down like a helicopter at the start of 'Question of Time'. There's even a lot of fire, but it's just on the screens. Rush had real fire. Just saying...

Mid-set, there's the obligatory "quiet spot" where Martin Gore, with his never-aging, slightly sad clown-looking face, grabs a guitar and takes centre stage. It's an opportunity for the hardcore fans to enjoy his much softer, more melodic voice, and some of them embrace and look genuinely moved as he makes his way through 'Higher Love' and 'When the Body Speaks'. It's also an opportunity for people who only know three Depeche Mode songs to shout at each other, take photos of themselves in front of the stage, and generally act like, well I want to say "bellends" but really it's more like "modern-day giggers". Get off my lawn, hipsters.

Oh, go on, please listen to me, or I'll look even sadder... 

With Dave back on the stage, the gig makes its way to the finish line, with some of the biggest hits still to come, including a very dance-y version of newer hit 'A Pain That I'm Used To', based on the Jacques Lu Cont mix, and a slow, Johnny Cash style start to 'Personal Jesus' before it turns into the rockiest song of the evening.

It's in the encore though, that things finally come alive for the whole arena (bellends included.) A very James-Bond-esque version of 'Halo' (which turns out to be based on a Goldfrapp remix) is a surprise highlight of the entire gig, and then there's the small matter of an early '80s mega-smash hit single and erstwhile DFS commercial, which gets the whole place jumping up and down to Alan Fletcher's cheesetastic keyboard riff in a way which is rather at odds with the rest of the evening's dark, brooding set.

I bet they 'Just Can't Get Enough' of playing this song. Ha! HAHA!

A couple more bona fide hits, with occasional choruses, round up the evening and we're sent home with the sounds of 'Never Let Me Down Again' ringing in our ears, past the resident tube station busker knocking out 'Personal Jesus' for the hundredth time.

It's been a good night, with some excellent music and some proper rock star behaviour (not all of it from the band). It's hard to get too involved in a gig when you're standing right at the back of an enormodome, but Dave Gahan has a good old go at engaging every single person in the hall, even those standing by the sound desk on a pile of someone else's spit.

I will probably never, ever, forgive them for not playing 'Everything Counts', though. Surely that's the only way a Depeche Mode gig should ever end?

Depeche Mode Setlist:

Welcome to My World 
Walking in My Shoes 
Black Celebration 
Policy of Truth 
Should Be Higher 
Barrel of a Gun 
Higher Love (Sung by Martin)
When the Body Speaks (Sung by Martin)
Soothe My Soul 
A Pain That I'm Used To ('Jacques Lu Cont's Remix' version)
A Question of Time 
Secret to the End 
Enjoy the Silence 
Personal Jesus 

Home (Acoustic)
Halo ('Goldfrapp Remix' version)
Just Can't Get Enough 
I Feel You 

Never Let Me Down Again 

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