Kieran Lewis reviews Depeche Mode’s show at the O2
36 years after their debut, Speak and Spell, Depeche Mode’s trajectory is radically different from that of many of their 80s chart counterparts. While other bands of their day now fill their schedules with nostalgia-fueled reunion tours to pay the bills, this resilient Basildon three-piece has stayed innovative, relevant, and unflinchingly eloquent. Tonight, it’s London’s turn to see why the standard-bearers of melancholy electronica still command respect.
Frontman Dave Gahan looks just as comfortable slinking and pirouetting around a stage at 55 as he did at 25 when the set opens with the rapturously-received “Going Backwards” from 2017’s Spirit. A booming, outspoken and angry affair, Depeche Mode’s fourteenth studio album takes a very frank look at the state of the world and concludes that, should humanity not get its act together, “we’re fucked”. This somewhat gloomy forecast might explain why we only hear three songs from the album this evening– the jarring ‘Where’s the Revolution’ and the haunting ‘Cover Me’, in addition to the opening number.
The band effortlessly demonstrate their curious ability to carve songs out of anguished pessimism, electrify them with synth, and send them pulsing through enormous arenas with undeniable charisma. Watching Dave Gahan leap around in a shiny waistcoat while 20,000 people scream back lyrics about corporate and personal greed – specifically the anthemic fan favourite ‘Everything Counts’ – is a sight to behold.
On the subject of injustice, there would be none greater than overlooking the lead singer’s understated but indispensable colleague, Martin L. Gore. As chief lyricist and the brains behind the operation, it is Gore’s ability to capture his own insecurity, guilt, and tortured desire that continues to drive Depeche Mode’s most compelling material. On two separate occasions, pre-and post-encore, Gahan vacates the stage completely and the London crowd is treated to the enthralling combination of Gore’s arresting vocal and a piano. “I give in to sin / Because you have to make this life livable”, he laments as he rearranges the punchy ‘Strangelove’, following a genuinely touching reinterpretation of ‘Insight’ half way through the main set.
By the time the encore draws to a close with a rafter-shaking rendition of the almighty ‘Personal Jesus’, there can be no doubt about the undying appeal of this band. Nobody before or since has been able to strike the improbable balance between gloomy vulnerability and raw energy quite like Depeche Mode. It really isn’t hard to see why London ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’.
Featured image credit: Anton Corbijn