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DEPECHE MODE - Birmingham NEC 21 Oct 2001   Print  E-mail 
Written by Mark Reed  
Tuesday, 14 September 2004

Violator. Ultra. Exciter. Can they please stop naming their albums after adult toys , please?

 

But, in the meanwhile Twenty years into their career, they're still at it like they're never, ever going to get bored of this music thing. Whilst they may have taken a musical left turn recently away from stadium-filling, genre-defining industrial-pop at the precise moment that TV and Radio decided they weren't quite hip enough anymore, they still manage to successfully pack out arenas wherever they go. Problem is, we still remember those young kids in felt hats playing "Just Can't Get Enough" on Saturday Morning Swapshop. Live, Depeche Mode are certainly better than on record. And this is certainly better than the nostalgic, lastgasp 1998 tour, where they became, to all intents and purposes, a faded LA cabaret version of Depechy Modey. In place of the retro retread of past glories, they're looking forward.

Aided and abetted by a versatile, unstoppable drummer, and a technical whizzkid genius keyboard player - to aid the 'official' useless keyboardist - Depeche Mode have become a slick, powerful, rock band. They're not breaking new ground or pioneering anything anymore, but I don't know of any musician past the age of 30 who is.

Depeche Mode are always better live.

For a start, the songs from the latest, limp album "Exciter" sound vibrant, alive, punchy, with the heart of darkness that somehow manages to taint everything they touch. It's just impossible for them to write anything happy anymore. Secondly, they look as if they're actually enjoying themselves again. And whilst the set, for the opening salvo, may be rooted in newer material and older album tracks, it is still received as eagerly as if they were playing nothing but their hit singles. And the traditional quality gap between the hit-free part of the set and the big hits is almost nonexistent.

Still every silver lining has a cloud, and there are plenty of them for Depeche Mode to grapple with. Whilst it is obvious that they are both tightknit and enjoying themselves tremendously, there are moments where it veers almost in self-parody.

Dave Gahan, who is one of rocks better frontmen to say the least, slithers around the stage like Elvis, pulling overexaggerated mocking poses, offering the mike to the crowd to sing (just like Bon Jovi), bumping'n'grinding against other members of the band.

And Fletch? Well, the gigs better if you don't look at the passenger pretending to play the keyboard wildly out of time, dance out of rhythm and spend all songs clapping along. To call him a source of derision amongst the musicians out there is well, to understate the man's complete uselessness. He is after all just the bands manager who's been shoved on stage.
 
Finally, if you see Depeche Mode more than say, once on the tour, you get to know exactly what's coming next. Where Dave will stand, the moves he will pull, the poses he will make, are identical from night to night, even the 'adlibs'. Even the former drummer said that he could tell exactly to the line where they were in the set, just by looking at where he was and what he was doing even if he couldn't hear a thing. (Oh look, Dave's standing on the monitors, it must be "It's No Good", now he's dancing with Martin it must be the guitar break in "Enjoy The Silence").

There's no doubt that they're good and certainly enjoying themselves. Everyone in the band is jumping around like a teenager due for a dose of Ritalin. And everyone else is as well. Given an unpredictable, largely hit-free set (of their 38 hits, they manage to play just 8), frequently prone to turning songs inside-out - playing their biggest hits with massive doses of experimental interludes in the middle, and intriguing, changes of style - from the near ambient, sparse Free Love to the pulsating techno electro of Enjoy The Silence and the throbbing rock of I Feel You within three songs - Depeche Mode look as if they will continue to be ignored by the TV and radio and massive everywhere else. They'll never conquer the world again, or be bigger than they are now, but, blessed with one of the best frontmen in music, and one of the most pervy songwriters in the world, it'll always be interesting.

SET: Easy Tiger, Dream On, Dead Of Night, Sweetest Condition, Halo, Walking In My Shoes, Dream On, When The Body Speaks, Waiting For The Night, Sister of Night, It Doesn't Matter, Breathe, Freelove, Enjoy The Silence, I Feel You, In Your Room, It's No Good, Personal Jesus, Home, Clean, Black Celebration, Never Let Me Down Again

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