Depeche Mode – Live @ The LG Arena Birmingham, 27/01/2014

Unlike the preening, pre-packaged pop stars of the modern era, Depeche Mode have seen it all and done it all. From the alarmingly naïve days of ‘speak and spell enough’, through the darkly voyeuristic ambience of ‘black celebration’ and ‘violator’ onto the drug-addled brilliance of ‘songs of faith and devotion’ and ‘ultra’ and finally re-emerging in the 00s a lean, brutally efficient outfit with ‘playing the angel’ and recent album ‘Delta machine’, Depeche Mode have consistently expanded and redefined their sonic palette whilst remaining intrinsically true to their original vision. Buoyed by legendarily brilliant live performances, an arena in which Dave Gahan, in particular, excels, the band have an immensely loyal and passionate fan base and the atmosphere in the NEC’s cavernous hall is positively electric as they step out on stage.

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With a stage flanked by two massive HD screens (and another dominating the entire backdrop), not to mention the circular lighting pods that are emblazoned with custom Delta machine lights and which raise and lower according to the needs of the performance, Depeche Mode are clearly out to dazzle, and a well-chosen set list certainly helps them do that. I have been in the NEC many times, but the roar which greeted the band was still surprising in its volume and intensity, all but drowning out the wheezing synth intro to ‘welcome to my world’. It’s a great opening song to the album and a similarly great opening song to the show and, with the sound perfectly balanced, it gained new power in the live environment. Indeed, power is the one word which must surely define the Depeche mode performance this evening thanks to a live line-up boasting two extra members – Peter Gordeno on keyboards, backing vocals and bass and Christian Eigner on drums. It is the latter instrument, only rarely deployed in the past, that gives the music a far greater weight than might be expected with various tracks taking on the grinding industrial feel that so energized Dave during the recording of ‘Ultra’. Surprisingly the band open with two new songs (‘welcome…’ gives way to a bruised ‘Angel’) before we are treated to a blisteringly huge ‘walking in my shoes’, Dave and Martin giving a great performance on vocals as the latter takes to the guitar. Even better, following a rousing ‘policy of truth’, the band leave the stage and we are treated to a stunning performance from Martin, backed solo by Peter on piano, who sings the bluesy ‘slow’ in a manner that drips eroticism and then follows it up with ‘but not tonight’. It would seem that even the band are taken back by the depth of feeling which is displayed by the crowd in response and it is a truly beautiful moment when the whole arena takes up the refrain and sings it back to a clearly emotional Martin. The show then disappears with remarkable speed, ‘behind the Wheel’ introduced by a pounding beat that threatens to crush the front rows while ‘a pain that I’m used to’ explodes vividly to life with Peter playing live bass and the drums drawing the chorus into hitherto unsuspected realms of intensity. We then get ‘a question of time’, the ever-green ‘enjoy the silence’ (dispatched strangely early) and ‘personal Jesus’, the latter causing the crowd to nearly combust.

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However, the evening is not done and an encore swiftly follows with Martin once again taking the stage with Peter for a stunning ‘shake the disease’ before the band unleash ‘Halo’, Just can’t get enough’, a startlingly metallic ‘I feel you’ and the grand finale of ‘never let me down again’. Throughout Dave Gahan delivered a wildly energetic performance, eliciting cheers with his salacious dance moves and ever diminishing wardrobe and rarely standing still long enough for the eye to settle upon him. He is, without a doubt, one of the great frontmen and his rich tones, still so capable of sending shivers down the spine, are matched by a personality of equal power.

With a ‘Delta Machine’ heavy set list, the band proved that they’re far from a greatest hits machine, although plenty of hits were dispatched as well, with the only real surprise being the complete absence of anything from ‘sounds of the universe’, the band preferring to focus, perhaps, on the more visceral side of their back catalogue thanks to the clearly energising presence of Peter and Christian. What was truly inspiring, however, was not the taut reminder of just how many great songs they’ve written (and how many more they didn’t play this evening), but the beautiful energy that flowed between band and audience. Whether the band were delivering a high octane classic, a stripped-bare reworking of a familiar favourite or a new gem, the audience were both respectful and explosively appreciative, with mass sing-alongs frequently threatening even the prodigious amount of volume flooding from the stage. A true communion between band and audience, then, Depeche Mode delivered a show that will undoubtedly remain long in the memories of all those who attended and it was one hell of a show.

Photos, sadly, are not SonicAbuse originals but are taken direct from the Depeche Mode site.

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