Opposing the sad skeleton of Wembley Stadium lays a pristine new Arena and it’s Depeche Mode who have been blessed with the task of testing the acoustics. And what a band to start with!

The 80s may be long over but the batteries installed in the Basildon trio show no sign of powering down. Neither do the assortment of fans who range from Goth booters and Coldplay shirts of varying ages.

This closing date of Touring The Angel’s second leg, and the second of two gigs at the Wembley Arena (the first was given a moderate Evening Standard review, and one punter at the end of this night audibly vented how this was much better) featured The Bravery’s last support date for the band.

The Bravery certainly charmed those who had any kind of affection for the single An Honest Mistake, but aside from this their set was boring and uninspired. It seemed as if they were playing variations of the same song. And of course the sub par sound never helps support acts, who, most of the time, just get in the way. No change here, then.

As soon as the rising-in-volume post-Bravery DJ set reached an amicably loud level, the shadowy figures the crowd had been waiting for emerged onto a set that featured space age keyboards, a video wall, an assortment of rhythmically matching lights, and a mirror-ball-come-spaceship. In fact, the light show was so good that even if you cancelled out the sound, you’d still enjoy the visual spectacle itself.

This was the first—and hopefully not the last—time I’ve seen Depeche Mode play live, and what struck me just as much as the craft of the band was the vehement, almost religious love that most of the fans poured onto the band. I felt far too macho to participate in the arm waving; most guys didn’t.

Matching the rage of their recent album’s opening intro (A Pain That I’m Used To), the stage sizzles in electrifying red as Dave Gahan takes the microphone to deliver a true dictionary definition of showmanship, from the deep baritone to the moves that recall Mick Jagger.

Bar the omission of their first serious ’86 hit Stripped, the show was an exciting retread through the classics. I’m certain that there were other songs they should have played, but in a two hour show there’s only so much they could squeeze in from a career largely filled with hits. Only a few songs were not really doing it for me live!

There was a lot of stuff from Violator, which remains staple material, with songs from either side of 1990 eliciting as strong a response (Never Let Me Down Again, I Feel You, A Question Of Time and Walking In My Shoes come to mind). The only two I felt didn’t really work were the Dave Gahan written I Want It All (bar the end) and the Martin Gore sung Macro.

My personal favourite of the night—and I am sure that no two people have the same favourite, yet will agree on it being a great performance—was the Martin Gore sung ballad Home. The song was meant for the arena; it soared and glided. Martin is also clearly an attraction to the eye with his black knitwear for the head and his range of guitars (the best being a star shaped one which he used for some near metal riffage on the ending of The Sinner In Me).

The mostly tucked away Andrew Fletcher even receives cheers when given focus on the brilliant video wall, often featuring effects and animation by long time visual collaborator Anton Corbijn. My girlfriend, who is a true DM nut, compares the show’s theatrics to the Devotional tour of ’93, only that the band seem to be enjoying themselves more.

It’s been more than 10 years since Alan Wilder departed the band. And while there are many who lament his loss in the studio, live, his duties are filled by long-time drummer Christian who converts most of those drum machine hits into sufficiently solid acoustic thwacks, and keyboardist Peter (who accompanies Martin on a stripped down version of Shake The Disease).

Despite moving a long way from Smash Hits association, the band did indulge in an often requested rendition of Just Can’t Get Enough (further lining the pockets of ex-member Vince Clarke, as well as featuring on a recent H&M; advert.) You can’t accuse the band of withholding humour: regular visitors to their site will have spotted an April Fool that claimed The Cure’s Robert Smith launched action to stop further pressings of recent album Playing The Angel due to his similarity with the “Mister Feathers character by Anton Corbjin that featured on the cover!

The night ended with Goodnight Lovers, a usually unexciting song from a least valued album. But here it works well: Dave and Martin unite at the end of an extending walkway and appear as some kind of 21st century Righteous Brothers.

With an ending group hug and a promise to return—greeted more than warmly by the audience—you can be sure DM will be giving it their all for still a while to come. There are many who are too keen to write off Depeche Mode’s material these days, but live, there’s very little reason to complain. All hail the U2 of synth-pop!

Depeche Mode
Touring The Angel 2005/2006
Wembley Arena
(3 April 2006 )

Star rating

Reviewer

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