It doesn’t happen often that a band precedes their appearance onstage with an advert for wristwatches. If this has happened to you before, it’s likely you’ve gone to see Depeche Mode where half the crowd whoop and cheer – probably for the ad soundtrack and the fact that something will clearly happen soon onstage more than for the Hublot range of Depeche Mode wristwatches, to be fair – and the other half are mildly perplexed. But the ad makes it clear that proceeds will go to a charity for clean drinking water in developing nations called, simply ‘Charity: Water’ so this is by no means your average product placement. It’s part of their revolution, their 2017 album Spirit revolution, the leading single “Where’s The Revolution” revolution, the bleakest spot in a bleak album wondering what we’re doing with our privilege, with our voices, with our lives.
And this is the Global Spirit Tour. Unlike many other bands that formed in 1980 who release by-numbers new albums but rely on the classics to power them along, Depeche Mode are here to say something with this one. Sure, it’ll be interspersed with older greatest hits material but that doesn’t detract from the greatest hits; it adds to them. On a playing field as sophisticated as this, everything here can realistically earn that moniker as it’s not about passage of time. This is quality control.
Blackness onstage and The Beatles’ “Revolution” is piped out of the speakers. A paint-splotched Pollock of a backdrop fills the giant screen [visuals throughout the night by their Visual Creative Director Anton Corbijn] and the band appear, the man of the next two hours and fifteen minutes, Dave Gahan, playing around on a hidden staircase both in front of and part of the screen. For audience members moving either left or right of stage centre, the staircase divides the screen causing dissonance with later visuals of farmyard animals, for one. A dissonance that fits with the band’s aesthetic so the people who don’t have the pleasure of a central viewpoint probably don’t even realise the picture is meant to be one. Gahan descends the steps in attack mode, coming straight to the front for “Going Backwards” and we’re off. It’s not a flat-footed, heavy attack though. He flits lightly throughout the night, removing his jacket for Ultra double bill “It’s No Good” and “Barrel Of A Gun” – the latter including the “Close to the edge/trying not to lose my head” snippet from Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message” – and removing his only hindrance, from then on a waistcoated coiled spring of boundless dark energy, releasing it in fists-clenched, arms-horizontal spinning every few songs, when not making love to the audience with eyes and the wave of a hand and a baritone blessing.
He’s occasionally seen making his way off stage though, sweaty head wrapped in a towel and it’s at these points Depeche Mode’s main songwriter Martin Gore takes us through some softer hits, his voice eerily similar to Gahan’s but with a more rounded, cabaret edge, the simplicity of the piano-led “A Question Of Lust” belying the fact that his voice is just as strong. He walks the length of the catwalk during “Home”, bringing the audience with him emotionally until they carry on singing after he’s finished, longer even than they themselves suspect they will. It’s Depeche Mode’s “Hey Jude” moment and they seem to feel it as much as the audience do.
After the closest we are going to get to an acoustic set, things power up again with “Where’s The Revolution”. A power that’s masked in what seems like quite a minimalist album is unleashed live, Gahan’s angry pleading over the driving synths that laser through the arena makes even the on-record quite twee “The train is coming” bridge a powerful premonition. Later, sparse synths bleat abstractly until they are filled in and become “Enjoy The Silence”, lit perfectly in purple because, if we’d been asked to name a colour for that song, it always would have been purple.
They’re known for long encores and our five song treat is no less than we expect. Some might be disappointed that the cover of Bowie’s “Heroes” played in other venues is not present here, but we get what they don’t: Gore again lullabying us with “Strangelove”, the much-appreciated if audience cheers are anything to go by “Policy Of Truth” and as we all try to cram in the last moments of enjoyment before the 3Arena’s 11pm curfew, the chuffing gasps of “Personal Jesus” unite everyone.