Dave Gahan and Soulsavers, Coliseum, London, 5th December 2021
When Dave Gahan met Soulsavers, it was murder (ballads)....ok, that's a very cheesy lift from the introduction to 70s millionaires-turned-crimefighters Hart To Hart, but if it had starred Nick Cave instead of Robert Wagner, that would be the perfect description of the band.
Soulsavers have been around since 2003, initially downtempo electro, but developing into a more Bad Seeds styled soul/blues/gospel band. Singers have included Spain's Josh Haden, Mark Lanegan, Mike Patton from Faith No More, Red Ghost and, since 2012, they have been fronted by Depeche Mode's Dave Gahan, having supported the Mode back in 2009.
Gahan is an amazing frontman, and has since 2005 has been writing songs for Depeche Mode as well as singing the songs of Martin Gore. That's been hard for both of them, but has given the Mode a broader sound and works well. But ultimately, with Gore such a brilliant songwriter, there's not much room for Gahan's tracks. So he's knocked out two rather excellent solo albums, and now has a vehicle for his creativity with Soulsavers, having written all the lyrics for two cracking albums with them.
So tonight's show, a performance of the new covers album, Imposter, seems a little odd. For a man with so much creativity bursting to get out, a set of covers seems a little strange.
The venue for this evening is the English National Opera's Coliseum - very grand and great work for a working class Basildon boy done good. I am nervous about the show though, as the album hasn't grabbed me so far, whereas the two previous albums Dave writ’s with Soulsavers, The Light The Dead Sea and Angels & Ghosts are wonderful. If he'd advertised the show as an entire performance of Imposter, I am not sure I'd have gone.
I am here with Loz who is similarly skeptical. We saw Dave's last London show back in 2015 and it was fabulous. But as Loz says, once the Pet Shop Boys covered Always On My Mind, there really is no point in doing it again. But we love Dave and we are enjoying the people watching - much of the audience seem to have travelled from all over the place. Lots of people seem to have flown in especially, which is real dedication given Covid, travel restrictions etc. One or two seem to have flown straight in from the 80s, including one chap who looks like the lead singer from 80s popsters, King (I really like his DMs).
But then we are off and the show kicks off with soul classic, The Dark End Of The Street. The band then works its way through Imposter, track by track. The album is presented as Dave's personal journey, with the songs that make him who he is, his life story as told by others. There is an irony there, as his musical life story has been told mainly by Vince Clarke and by Martin Gore - he's in effect been an imposter for years. So I still think it would be more interesting to hear an album of his own material, but as the album progresses, I warm to it.
The band are never less than stunning, three guitars, bass, keys, drums and two fabulous backing singers. The set is beautiful and simple, and the sound quality is amazing - I guess that's what you get when you hire the ENO's own venue.
Standouts are Mark Lanegan's Strange Religion, Cat Power's Metal Heart and Shut Me Down by The Birthday Party's Rowland S Howard. Nat King Cole's Smile is pretty awful on record, but I enjoy it live. And whilst he can never top the Pet Shop Boys, Dave's Always On My Mind is pretty good. Stripped down, simple - if Elvis had come from Essex, who knows if he'd be here now?
The show is fabulous, Dave prowling the stage, hunched over, like a man possessed, though it's a fine line between Nick Cave style preacher cool and looking like duck with haemorrhoids....but mostly he pulls it off.
There's a short break and a strange kerfuffle in the balcony, with shouting, security and a man removed - we can't work out what happened, but I bet that's not something the ENO have to deal with that often.
Then Dave is back, launching into a magnificent version of Revival, one of Soulsavers tracks with Mark Lanegan. It's stunning, quickly followed by Personal Jesus. Starting slowly, it bursts into an all out rocker. Dave is finally back in his comfort zone, he can prance, prowl, strut and hold out his mike for a guaranteed call and response from an audience at last up on their feet and losing their shit.
Gahan jerks and gyrates like he has a unique, Mick Jagger styled Tourettes, his movements are out of his control as he rocks out. John The Relevator, the gospel blues track that Depeche Mode covered so brilliantly on Playing The Angel brings thing up a gear again and Dave is in full on preacher mode, jazz hands waving in the air. He holds the audience in the palm of this hand. He returns for one more Soulsavers track, Take More Back Home and then they are gone.
And that's the issue. Imposter is nice but it's all mid-paced and slow songs, there is nothing that allows Dave to really be Dave - the deranged, mesmerising frontman we know and love. These may be the songs he thinks shaped and formed him, but none of these created the whirling dervish that leads Depeche Mode. It would have been nice to see him and Soulsavers really rock out - no Stones or Bowie songs that definitely shaped the Dave we know and love.
Don't get me wrong, it's a great gig, but Imposter feels the right title - I'd like to see more of who the real Dave is, this feels a little like rewritten history, it's not quite the real picture and maybe you should follow a policy of truth after all?