The Basildon boys are back, and like a dutiful soldier I naturally attended their only 2017 UK date, in the hallowed halls of the old Olympic Stadium in Stratford. Regular readers will appreciate that I have been following this band nigh on 27 years, missing only one tour, so here are some highlights with the usual apologies for poor filming techniques;
Here is an amusing and earnest chat with frontman Dave ‘Call Me Dave’ Gahan, from the frequently excellent Nerdist podcast. Unfortunately we missed the first track due to some poor time management issues, but the party only really got rocking when they delved into the back catalogue and the crowd rose to its feet;
As something of an obsessive list person it was brilliant to finally tick off some songs of theirs I have never seen live, and for the ‘proper’ fans I think the two track Martin Gore mid-set sequence was the best I’ve witnessed during the numerous times I’ve seen them;
If you put a gun to my head I think this was the best track of the evening, another back catalogue highlight that chimes with the ethos of their recent album Spirit, which I confidently assert is their best album in a decade;
So yet another great evening, somewhat overshadowed by the events at London Bridge that we learnt about once we retired to a pub in Bow for a final nightcap, but let’s just leave that event undiscussed as that’s the antithesis of what those fuckers want us to do. Instead, enjoy this main set closer which is always an exhilarating experience, 60,000 people in arm swinging unison which is what is uniquely great about these big, stadium events;
My first and probably only music gig of the year this week, the almighty Depeche Mode at my local Greenwich squatting venue. The Basildon bred boys are on the road to promote their latest album Delta Machine, the closest they’ve come to my mind in equalling their two most prosperous albums Violator and Songs Of Faith & Devotion a mere twenty years and change ago, to be charitable their output has been somewhat erratic ever since musical bulwark Alan Wilder fled the scene after the obliterating Devotional tour which left one of them in a loony bin, and the other two of them in rehab – you can take the boys out of Essex etc. So as I’m sure I’ve previously mentioned I’ve seen them on tour every time since 1990 (apart from the greatest hits tour which doesn’t count – I was on holiday OK?) and this was one of their strongest performances in line with one of their strongest albums of the past two decades, so here’s a few selected highlights of the night;
One of my favourite post 1990 tracks there, and the first time they’ve played in live in quite a while. Similarly for the first time in a very long time I actually quite enjoyed the new album tracks, the openjng chords of ‘new stuff’ usually signal a run for the bar to replenish dwindling alcohol stocks, but they worked this time around and actually filled the space, with this little bruiser being quite effective in getting the crowd going after the mid-set ‘slow’ track Martin Gore section – although he did serenade us with a terrific stripped down version of Higher Love.
I’m guessing most people don’t pick up on these things and pay attention to parochial things such as the music and performance (I’m joking) but as always the visual design of the tour is fantastic, something that the band is renowned for pioneering with their groundbreaking early world tours, with a through line in triangular graphic design which runs through the lighting patterns, screen projections, set design and marketing compositions of sleeve design, posters, t-shirts and other merchandise – although what really got the crowd roaring was of course the music, specifically some of the older stuff;
I do like the O2 as a venue, all too often with stadium gigs the tension of the music can get lost in the cavernous space (Earls Court anyone?), Dave Gahan’s tumultous vocals were clear and powerful, and they were smart enough close the main set with arguably their two best known singles Personal Jesus and Enjoy The Silence, possibly the best version of the latter I’ve ever seen them perform;
OK, I’m starting some (forgive me) ‘Blasphemnous rumors’ here as they actually finished the main set with this which is a new one and it was alright, I’d have preferred something a little more upbeat but here we are. Overall the set list was solid, although I’d have preferred some substitutions you can’t have everything, and even the presence of one of their very early bubble gum pop didn’t quite elicit the groans it normally does – although I do wish they’d look into reviving more of their 1984 – 1986 material for future shows. Good interview here, gig review here, but let’s finish predictably with one of the all time greatest audience participation tracks – yup you guessed it they finished on the obvious;
They say you should never meet your heroes, an assertion to which I casually retort ‘yeah tell that to Mark Chapman’, a confused and somewhat controversial response which tends to result in either violent or disgusted reactions. I’m sharing this fascinating retort with you as I have some special news to report, in a break from narrative tradition I took in a concert film this week within the art-house facility of the Everyman Cinema in Islington, a new venue for me that has consistently eluded my attention, but when a best friend demanded that I accompany him to view a screening of the concert film of Recoil: A Strange Night In Budapest I was powerless to refuse. For the uninitiated Recoil is the solo imprint of Alan Wilder, the one time musical maestro behind popular electronica beat combo Depeche Mode, one of my all time favourite bands whom in my humble opinion have never truly recovered from his split with the band following the arduous World Devotional tour way back in the midst of time – or 1995 to be more precise. Here’s a taster of the new film;
You may recall I saw Recoil a couple of years ago and this is the crowd sourced and funded capture of the Budapest leg of his modest 2010 tour, Wilder has released a handful of albums since his spilt from the Mode twenty years ago, whilst his work might be an acquired taste we ancient Modettes still follow his aural stylings with a cultish glee, although personally I prefer his earlier, funnier work;
The concert film is perfectly serviceable – wide shot of crowd, cut to musicians playing, mix things up with some inserts of the background gig visuals, splice with further crowd details before back to the wide shot – but of course the music is the most important thing and the sound quality was excellent if this slightly esoteric strain of electronic chords and sampling floats your emulator boat – set lists for those interested here, you can pick up your own copy here – highly recommended. The event was an agreeable and good-natured if slightly unattended affair, this was obviously the haunt of die-hard fans but in the final analysis that generated a more intimate sense of fun, as Wilder himself welcomed us into the venue and conducted a rather chaotic but illuminating post screening Q&A – just to handle the obvious question despite this one track charity reunion he and DM ain’t resuming activities, even if he did honour them with a recent remix. For diary purposes this night will go down in history amongst me and my close friends however as before exiting the cinema for further Christmas liquid excesses I took the opportunity to introduce myself to Alan – we’re obviously on first name terms now – gabbling my enthusiasm for his music and work before vigorously shaking his hand and snapping a photo for the German journalist who was chatting to him before I rather inelegantly interrupted their conversation. True to expected form he was as genial and approachable as we fans could possibly expect, he seemed very amenable to my rudeness and genuinely enthusiastic despite my potentially embarrassing gushing – an all round good egg in my book;
This event was something of a double whammy as I had never had the pleasure of visiting the Screen On The Green before, as a capsule review it’s a perfectly agreeable London art-house cinema with good leg room and perfect sight lines, they provide waiter service of drinks to your seats (no doubt aping the international popularity of the Alamo Drafthouse experience) and a reasonably sized screen with excellent acoustics. If I had one complaint then it would be the perfectly obvious point about the exorbitant drink prices, I fully realise they have their overheads to master and could tap the more affluent middle-class who would be more likely to frequent their facility and support their alternative credentials, but £6 for a bottle of beer is outrageous, but then again in the months I’ve been hibernating it seems that two nights out in reasonably quick succession has revealed that the average cost of a pint in London is now over £4, and there was me thinking this was the era of austerity. But enough grumbling, this was a truly legendary night that I and my mate will be drinking to for many years to come, now all I have to do is get John Carpenter a pint and I can die a happy man. In other news next week is looking hectic with three cinema visits on the horizon (I think something’s coming out on Thursday?) but let’s leave this weekend with a track from the old school, Enjoy the Recoil :
Forgive me for reverting to indulgant diary mode as I doubt that half an hour of two old blokes messing about with their MacBooks will be of much interest to most of you. I enjoyed my first gig of the year on Sunday at the O2 in Islington, the side project of musician Alan Wilder that began when he split from Depeche Mode back in 1994;
Not much else to say other than it was a fun experience in an intimate venue. I’m not particularly knowledgeable about Recoils output, despite owning most of his albums they’re not very often on the playlist but then again nothing is as I gravitate to listening podcasts more in my old age. Anyway, here’s some more:
Some DM material was appropriated to the crowds delight:
And some more to close…
The Basildon boys are back in town. I’ve been following Depeche Mode, one of my favourite bands, for over twenty years now and never pass on the opportunity to see the guys perform in their home town, despite some health concerns earlier in the year Dave was his usual excitable self, effortlessly getting the crowd in the palm of his hand.
This years album, Sounds Of The Universe, I’m sorry to report is rubbish but thankfully we didn’t get too many ‘album tour’ tracks which could have soured the whole experience. Then again, I do quite like the first single from this release:
They weren’t the best I’ve seen them, the set list was a little predictable and some of their more obvious tracks which I’m not hugely fond of were blasted out with their usual professionalism, we got all the singles from their breakthrough Violater album;
….the best live tracks from their biggest album Songs Of Faith & Devotion;
…and a couple of oldies from way back in the eighties;
Nevertheless they still had their moments and a couple of surprises. Unfortunately I didn’t make it the The Posters Came From The Walls screening I mentioned last week, work interfered with a late night meeting that I was press-ganged into attending, thankfully I only have two days left before taking a well deserved break in the new year. I’m made a pact to try and see newer bands next year, with one exception all the gigs I attended this year were to see bands that I grew up listening to, given that I haven’t bought any albums for months I’m open to suggestions although I have a couple of ideas. Tomorrow – Avatar day.
Despite a punishing schedule as my assignment at Southwark wraps up – we’re talking looooong days but only three weeks to go – I’ve managed to book a few more events in the run up to Christmas including something a little different, a documentary on the fan obsession surrounding synth pioneers Depeche Mode which they’ve mysteriously called The Posters Came From The Walls that is screening at the Clapham Picturehouse tomorrow evening. Normally I could wait to catch this but the prospect of seeing Alan Wilder, the exiled central member of the bands success in the mid eighties to nineties in Q&A after the screening is simply unmissable for an old school Mode-Head. Here is probably his most instrumental (if you’ll forgive the pun) achievement to the bands success, embedding is disabled so here is another, weirder version:
I’m vaguely hoping that the documentary will be more than a mere hagiography of the band and bleed out into a wider examination of fan obsessions that are achieving critical mass these days (Twilight anyone?) but since I’ve just read that it’s a record label sanctioned and financed piece I’m not holding my breath. I’m seeing Depeche Mode at the O2 in a couple of weeks, I’ll incorporate my thoughts on the film into my gig review after that. Meanwhile here is some fan derived nonsense from a bored Monday night, starting with some of Alan’s solo stuff, far more esoteric than the usual DM stuff he contributed to but a fine stroll down memory lane for yours truly:
Vaguely embarrassing by todays standards, but fun nonetheless:
Just a little to early for me – I started with the World Violation tour in 1990 – but I’ll always love this gig opening:
And one of my favourite tracks that they are still playing on certain dates:
Finally, in a patently weak effort at some sort of context, here’s a link to the brilliant Synth Britannia documentary that aired on BBC4 recently, one of the best music docs I’ve seen for ages and another exemplary example as to why I pay my licence fee. I loved the JG Ballard references, the cultural contexts and mirage of archive material that the BBC excel at fusing together to construct something that no-one else could make – outstanding.