…But Not Tonight
Strange electronic shifting’s fill the auditorium. We have paid exorbitant prices to witness this. The room is electric. He stands almost perfectly still. He stands almost perfectly still for the entire performance, only occasionally swaying as if his grip on the microphone stand might loosen and he may collapse to and possibly through the floor. Although if he does succumb to the calling of the wall to wall tonight, the dry ice would break his fall, mountains of the stuff tumble from the front of the stage drowning the audience already blind by the orange search lights sweeping gracefully through the slowly twisting and twirling fog.
Aloft four mighty solid towers they are unique forms of continuity in space, they are Greek gods astride their Olympus and this is the sound of their synthesized thunder and this is the sight of dark lighting – as only they can do.
It has been years since this band have been so commanding. This is compelling stuff. They mean business, serious deeds indeed. Gone are the rock ‘n’ roll paraphernalia and cheep fillers of drums and symbols and returned to its rightful place is a tape machine with a steady four to the floor stomping techno beat. This plays at different speeds throughout the evening, indeed it plays for some considerable time before the band take to the stage and join in with it.
We presume that is the band as it is hard to tell through the mist and curtains and screens but as the opening number reveals itself and builds through cleverly charged key changes and twisted filters the charade is dropped bit by bit, curtain by curtain until a beaming band is visible, smiles and blinding lights, they are obviously as happy to be here as us.
This is the seventh show out of thirteen over the course of a year. This is touring twenty first century style. Thirteen venues and a million cinemas throughout the world watching each show live and direct, some even have removed their seats and installed dry ice machines too, not to mention the surround sound and 3-D DM merchandise in the lobbies. Last month’s show Blancmange were the opening act, live on stage in the cinema!! Their first two albums, wow, A#1. All across the globe thousands upon thousands of bands are getting to support Depeche Mode on the one same night in cinemas from Mombasa to Miami, Beirut to Bangladesh. Even the crowd are performing to their best tonight well in the knowledge they too are now big screen stars.
Bright lights fade to violet as an eighty’s sequencer kicks on and rough vocals compressed and effected to genius results echo out through the venue. Another old favourite and again another album track dusted off from the vaults. The screaming synthesizer lead practically out of tune – almost as if it is about to escape out of control off into the stratosphere but only restrained by the masterful fingers of chief song writer Martin L. Gore. The bass is dense and sharp simultaneously, cutting through the music, punching the air. Such a simple refrain looped to mesmerizing results and further filtered by Mr. Andrew Fletcher, continuously drawing attention to yet never distracting from the ‘song’. The other synth and sampler parts are played by one P. Gordeno, more than session musician; he has been with the live show for more than two decades, but tonight he is barely visible behind all the outboard gear. The four to the floor is not actually from the tape machine but an Arp 2600 which Dave occasionally interferes with before midi reset presets and boom boom boom resume. Sparse lighting and titanic amounts of dry ice make it hard to see anything much but that just leaves more room for dancing; something the ten thousand strong crowd are more than willing to do as this stadium becomes a club where reckless and primordial retro Futurism dancing is our plats principaux for tonight.
After a further three tracks from early eighties albums and just half an hour into proceedings the mood changes slightly with some numbers from Mr. Martin Gore. The first surprise is from debut album ‘Speak and Spell’ and is followed by an old gem off its follow up ‘A Broken Frame’, all played by full band and rounded off with the masterful ‘Pipeline’ from 1983’s ‘Construction Time Again’, a definite highlight of the night. Suddenly it is 1986 and as ‘Black Celebration’ melds into ‘Fly on the Windscreen’ the wall of light at the back of the stage shatters blood red and broken glass with fly corpse and broken beats, never a fresher sound heard by concert goers, never a more crisp blow dealt.
There is a full twenty minutes of mind expanding dirge and psychedelic jamming as ‘The Peche’ treat us to a live Cosmic Blue remix contest. Reminisce of bygone noise, excerpts, samples and twisted vocals from everything and anything can be heard, almost The Beatles ‘Love’ album but Recoil style. Chunks ‘n’ slabs of Uselink, Breathing in Fumes, Head Starter, Easy Tiger, Pain Killer, Slow Blow, Enjoy the Jesus, Question of Silence, Zenstation, Kaleid, I Feel… “Whatever, whatever”, “I don’t care how you feel”, etc, etc, and we do mean ‘etc’… “Now, This is Fun”.
The full abilities of Mr. Gore as a champion blues guitarist are realized and utilized to a staggering degree through tonight’s set. Such personality and warmth reaffirming decade old tunes with resonance and vigour and new life. Hob nail boot on the boards replaced by an Arp stomping techno beat and coloured in shades of blue by wistful electronics with bolder statements like freight trains through wilderness territory, you can hear the rattle and creek as we speed through abandoned mining towns and on occasion through the very shafts themselves as Fletcher’s filters bring background parts to the foreground – guiding, adding momentum and drive to this already runaway thunderous electro blues hurricane.
Suddenly silence. The night must be half way through and everyone could leave now fully content and still not one chart topping single played, long may it last, the familiar and stale has been replaced with a vibrant new freshness and exuberance for forgotten glories. We are reminded; this is what we originally fell in love with. This is the intimate.
Second half begins with a stage full of drums, floor toms from here to oblivion, they roll over like breath, tide, a coming storm. Drum machines and percussion leads us into a triumphant ‘Mercy in You’ and ‘Higher Love’ and all the while Roadies and Crew bring on more drums, assembling kits as their shadows converging on the backdrop until finally twenty plus crew are playing along with the four to the floor. Ridiculous. Ridiculously good fun, the crew must love this every night. Nothing.
A full on hedonistic and darkly glorious ‘Shine’ is followed by some sounds from ‘The Universe and a decadent ‘Peace’ full with love and harmony. What others might consider a lull is a personal high light as Martin sings some more of his own songs and lets loose with some exquisite blues guitar playing over some rolling toms, simple liquid electronics and sustained synth pads (one is pleasantly reminded of the deeper moments off ‘Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me’). Dave gets more time off as the energy is turned up again with rousing instrumentals from the first two albums now with Martin in full Glam mode wielding his axe where once there was only a finger on a key, a single finger on a single lonely key. GG Marty, I Didn’t Know I Loved You Till I Saw You Rock ‘n’ Roll. Applause, applause, applause.
When a Lazarus like Dave does re-emerges for the final half hour he stands centre stage like a colossal omitting a search light into space searching for that once exhausting stadium sized vaudeville gimmick of a front man with all the moves of all the rock gods amalgamated into one gyrating amphetamine muppet in an overly rehearsed pantomime, but no, he stands still – asserting more energy than Jagger, Morrison, GaGa or Hewson combined and he shrills an immaculate rendition of Clean, all is forgiven, we are newborn, for the first time.
Encores fill the rest of the night.