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DEPECHE MODE - London o2 Arena - 22 November 2017   Print  E-mail 
Written by Mark Reed  
Sunday, 03 December 2017

It's just music. Nothing more, nothing less. But sometimes, music is everything.

There’s a feeling somewhere in the middle of “Useless”. A sense that.. this is final. That this is near the end. An idea that this is the last time round. They’re all in their late fifties now, and I’ve been seeing this band since I first saw them on this very day, twenty seven years ago, on 22nd November 1990.

Everything changes. Nothing changes. Everything counts. Nothing counts. It’s just music, of course. But in this age, music has become part of identity. We align to bands are artists because we see some of ourselves in them – at whatever level that might be. Some of us might grow out of this, or perhaps not align so closely to the music and the concept of sound-as-identity, but all of us look in the mirror, we see who we are, and what has made us – and whomever we were at the age we first found this – music, sport, whatever – is something that can never be undone. We all came from somewhere. And we all like a good night out.

27 years since I first saw them, Depeche Mode have settled into an artistic holding pattern – what they offer are songs, not innovation – and it’s a consistent and interesting approach, with songs addressing the who what where and why of here and now and also the what next? But also, it feels very much like Depeche Mode have decided to drop the pretence of a ‘new album’ and instead give people what they want. There’s a shamelessness about accepting your role as both artist and at the same time entertainer, around knowing what people want, and giving it to them.

The new album ‘Spirit’ is about eight months old, and the songs from it are already being regulated to the subs bench. At best, they played less than half of this live, and tonight, only 23% of their latest album is in the setlist. Normally this band are quite forward looking and stick with too many new songs, but tonight, despite playing more songs than you might expect from their past – only one song in the whole night wasn’t a single – tonight feels like both a Greatest Hits show, and not at all. If I mentioned that, say, “Wrong”, “I Feel You”, “Policy of Truth”, “Behind The Wheel”, “Just Can’t Get Enough” aren’t played, you might also, justifiably think how could this be a hits show? And then, at the same time… how could it not be? You still get “Where’s The Revolution?”, “Precious”, “The Pain I Am Used To”, “Barrel Of A Gun”, “It’s No Good”, “Useless”, “Home”, “In Your Room”, “Walking In My Shoes”, “World In My Eyes”, “Enjoy The Silence”, “Personal Jesus”, “Never Let Me Down Again”, “Strangelove”, “A Question Of Time”, “Stripped”, “Everything Counts” and more. It’s a surfeit of glory for the band, in one respect, they have too many hits – and at the same time – they always play the same old ones. The last time they played “People Are People”, Justin Bieber’s mum was 12. That’s how long ago some of these songs are.

Depeche Mode are two bands – and have been for a long time : a trio in the studio, and on stage a five piece band ; both lineups of which have been stable now for 20 years, and have become fluent, and conversant with each other. Dave Gahan, once a frontman who was just a voice for anothers vision, has become his own artistic identity. Martin Gore, who wrote almost every song for the first twenty years, seems more at ease now, whilst Andrew Fletcher is still the laziest man in rock and seems to do absolutely nothing all night long. On stage, the engine room of Christian Eigner on drums and Peter Gordeno on keyboards, vocals, and bass drives the show ; it feels like a synthpop AC/DC that rampages tirelessly through the hits. Alan Wilder, who left the group 22 years ago, shows no sign of returning – and this then is Depeche Mode, and has been for a very long time.

The first half of the set is, despite the small number of songs from the latest album, still newer material from the past 20 years – and it still feels like a greatest hits set. The latter half largely concentrates on the hits from 1983-1993, and offers a number of great moments from music history. Certainly, having seen Depeche perform “Stripped” something like 30 times in my life, it does get quite boring [what more can you add after 30 repetitions of the same joke?], but for people who don’t see bands with the same tedious stubbornness I do, it’s probably great to get your every-four-years dose of “Stripped”. Thankfully, Depeche don’t tend to stand still – they rearrange the songs, add new intros and elements, and keep the songs fresh (of a sort) ; presenting the songs as they might if they wrote them today and not thirty five years ago. So “Everything Counts” is the same song its always been and yet its different and new and I don’t feel young, or old, or male, or female, I just… feel. And dance a bit.

In the best way as all music does, everything outside of the heart slips away ; money, work, health, it all disappears. There’s just the song, the idea, and sure, the moment. But it’s an unstoppable juggernaut of great songs, from a resurrection of “Strangelove” after being largely absent from setlists since 1990 to the most recent single “Cover Me” – which has a heartbreaking moment where he sings “I dreamt of us in another life / One we've never reached” – which is a song that means more than many of us would ever like to admit ; what if we’d turned left instead of right, up instead of down, spoken to him one night instead of her? … All points inbetween, there’s hits and well, its just music, but also, somehow all this is around how we see the world, the world in my eyes. And Depeche Mode aren’t trying to plug a new album anymore, but just be shameless entertainment, owning their role as the nearest thing to an electronic-rock version of Queen, with a bucketload of self-loathing, hits, and danceable navel gazing. They are who they are, and we all know it. Sometimes it takes your life to find out who you are, and why not dance and sing whilst you are finding out?

Going Backwards
Its No Good
Barrel Of A Gun
Pain That I’m Used To
Useless
Precious
World In My Eyes
Cover Me
Insight
Home
In Your Room
Where’s The Revolution?
Everything Counts
Stripped
Enjoy The Silence
Never Let Me Down Again

Strangelove
Walking In My Shoes
A Question of Time
Personal Jesus


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