My first gig of the year is a trip down memory lane - another blast of Depeche Mode's electronic music, turned rock Goth gods. Whilst I saw the opening night, occasional Back In Black(heath) contributor Nick Meynell saw the second show in Birmingham, so we both agreed to write a short piece each.
22nd January - Depeche Mode, supported by Nadine Shah, O2 Arena, London - JO'B gets lost in the crowd...
This is my second DM gig in three months, having seen them in Brooklyn back on October last year (see Every Gig Counts In Large Amounts - Depeche Mode, Barclays Center, Brooklyn, 21 October 2023).
This time, it's a tad nearer home and I am here with Loz, who I have seen the Mode with many times, and my colleague Daniel - we are taking his DM virginity. We meet for a few beers at the fabulous Pilot, 5 minutes walk from the venue. Beers are drunk and we are befriended by three blokes up from Swindon for the gig. They are nice and entertaining, if a little over-friendly - we are Londoners, we don't talk to strangers! We head in ahead of them as it's famously difficult to get a drink at the O2 Arena.
As it turns out, it's not too bad this time, but guttingly, we had one beer too many at the Pilot and miss Nadine Shah, the brilliant support. Beered up and standing on the floor, we are ready for the Mode. It's a huge show, though the setlist is pretty much identical to the show I saw in Brooklyn (Every Gig Counts In Large Amounts - Depeche Mode, Barclays Center, Brooklyn, 21 October 2023). We sing along and it's a huge, crowd-pleasing affair.
About 15 songs in I go to the bar for one last beer. The floor is busy and I make note of where we are - my super-power is finding people at gigs. But disaster strikes. I am served quickly (well done O2 for finally sorting out your terrible bars) and quickly head back to join my companions, but....they are no where to be seen! I wander (lonely as a cloud, only if a cloud is carrying three beers in a precarious tray). I cannot see sight nor sound of them.
Eventually, I retreat to the back as I cannot annoy people by doing yet another lap of the venue looking for them. I watch the last few songs on my todd, nursing my beer and singing along solo (except for the surrounding 20,000 strangers).
I wait and we are reunited as they leave the venue, gutted not to have seen the last third of the gig with them, but glad the two of them got on so well. As for the Mode, this is the winding down of the European tour.
We wonder will they play again? Is this the last album? Whilst the latest album, Memento Mori is rather good. the album only accounts for 4 of the 23 songs played tonight. If they tour again, I doubt any from this album will make the cut for a new tour (possibly Ghosts Again). From a live perspective, what is the point? I know they don't want to be a nostalgia act, but that is why most people are here.
They can't need the money anymore so wouldn't it be more rewarding to play a set of new songs and then a set of the tracks they never play - the album tracks that have been left behind (the wheel). Maybe a gig with:
Photographic (last played in 2010)
Master And Servant (last played in 2009)
New Life (last played in 1985)
People Are People (last played in 1989 as part of the 101 film)
Fly On The Windscreen (last played in 2009)
Suffer Well (last played in 2006)
Sacred (last played in 1989 as part of the 101 film)
Get The Balance Right! (last played in 1984)
You'd get less people there, but the show would cost less. If you want a hit-fuelled arena rock cracking show, you can't go wrong with DM (though £100 is a bit steep to say the least). I'd pay that again to see a show that promised more new songs and 15 tracks they haven't play in 15 years or more. That would be precious...
24th January - Depeche Mode, supported by Nadine Shah, Utilita Arena, Birmingham - our roving (and occasionally raving correspondent, Nick Meynell reports...)
It’s a Wednesday evening at the Utilita Arena (the Arena formerly known as the NIA, Barclaycard and City of Birmingham Arena) The last incarnation seems a long way off reincarnation, given the recent bankruptcy of the local Birmingham council. It’s not a bad arena - not the best (that's First Direct Leeds surely) but it isn’t Wembley Arena!
As much as I like Depeche Mode, I am not a die hard fan like many of those here. When I think of the other arena bands I’d listen to in the late 80s - Sisters of Mercy, New Order etc, I have to give Depeche Mode credit for not being a tribute band to themselves. They have maintained their credibility and clearly their devotees. They continue to move forwards rather than just looking back. That said, a hundred quid for a ticket is really taking the piss. Depeche Mode are good, but are they £100 good? Let’s discuss.
I have no idea why they start off with My Cosmos Is Mine from their new(ish) release Memento Mori. Atmospheric perhaps, but their second offering Wagging Tongue seems much more appropriate. Walking In My Shoes gets the audience nicely warmed up. This fan base is enthusiastic and Dave Gahan soon tells the audience that they are ‘better than London’. Whatever JO'B’s review says about the O2 gig, this one must be better - Dave Gahan said so.
As much as I like Policy Of Truth, nature calls so I didn’t really hear the entire song. What struck me more was the utter courtesy of the DM fans, and their incredibly strong bladders! I felt positively discourteous for necking that second pint of Brewdog and having to barge past these lovely people on the way to the loos. On that note it has to be said that Birmingham Arena prices have become as stupid as London. A convenient two pinter sounds less desirable at £16 - ‘my round?’ - definitely not here.
Everything Counts offers yet more audience participation, followed by the wonderful Precious from noughties Playing The Angel. The midpoint of all Depeche Mode gigs always (well on my mere three occasions) has a nice little acoustic interlude with Martin Gore. Tonight we get Strangelove and Heaven. I am going to predict that London got exactly the same. You certainly don’t need Chat GPT to predict a Depeche Mode setlist.
Talking of AI, I’m pretty certain that the lyrics of Ghosts Again were written via the bot. I really like the song from the new album, it sounds like old Depeche Mode but it’s new - but I do recall on first hearing it, being able to predict the end of the next line. World In My Eyes offers a well deserved tribute to Andrew ‘Fletch’ Fletcher who passed away less than two years ago. It was very evident how much love there was for him in the room, and rightly so.
Black Celebration is superb, followed by my personal DM favourite Stripped. Strangely I once saw Howard Jones cover this rather well. Maybe there is a pattern here (great DM covers, like Johnny Cash and his version of Personal Jesus). Unfortunately Stripped is followed by the dreadful, possibly worthy of Eurovision, John the Revelator from Playing The Angel. It is the sort of thing I would expect Chat GPT to ‘create’. Enjoy The Silence gets the gig back on track and set up for our encores.
Waiting For The Night is played on a walkway. It is only at this point that I realised that there was a walkway as I was a little in front of the mixing desk on the floor. Why only use it for one song. I’m not sure. Just Can’t Get Enough is just about bearable, but I guess it is popular. 371 million Spotify streams can’t be wrong. Never Let Me Down and Personal Jesus complete proceedings leaving the audience nicely satisfied.
I consider Depeche Mode to be a decent arena band. I remember questioning their ability to play stadiums with the guy next to me at Twickenham last June. I was wrong, he was right - devoted fan base remember. Very few artists / bands can realistically pull over the stadium gigs. Plenty think they can - Killers, Oasis (+NG), Kings of Leon but can’t in my humble opinion. The production on this tour whilst good, was not mind blowing. Admittably production isn’t everything, and should never detract from the music. We get a big M on stage and some decent visuals, but nothing extraordinary. I’ve seen Muse do an amazing drone show at this venue, and been to plenty of U2 shows that seem to spare no expense.
In that sense I do not consider this to be £100's worth of show. Paul Heaton has recently played the nearby Resorts World Arena for a little over £30. Billy Bragg provided support, he had a larger band and certainly didn’t skimp on the production. Fortunately my nice neighbour secured these tickets for about £40 via the wonderful Twickets so we left quietly contented.
The music industry is going to need to address ticket price inflation. So many of the costs for these shows are fixed, so the Arena / Stadium shows should really be cheaper (due to lower cost per punter) than the medium sized (1-4K capacity) venues. Dynamic pricing is an even more worrying trend.
A final thanks to the lovely DM devotees. No beer throwing, no chatting, no annoying swinging bags, no really tall people, minimal movement to the toilets (apart from me!) - superb JO'B style gig etiquette (see JO'B's Haters Gonna Hate...gig etiquette and the worst gig faux pas... blog). If John Lewis were to do arena audiences…..
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