“Is anybody out there?” roared Depeche Mode’s ever-slinky frontman Dave Gahan several songs into their jam-packed concert at The O2 Arena. Half-joking that the blustery Monday night had perhaps discouraged such a turnout, it couldn’t be further from the truth. If a hefty portion of the general population were abstaining from alcohol for Dry January, 20,000 of the veteran band’s ‘Devotees’ certainly weren’t, based on the slithering bar queues. Even so, the sultry synth-pop king’s masterful performance was even more intoxicating.
The first of two winter shows in England’s capital within a week, Depeche Mode were only seducing London crowds last summer. Yet the appetite to see the band who brought shadowy, despairing synth-pop to the masses remains insatiable.
Still in the thick of their tour of the 2023 album Memento Mori – significant for being the band’s first album since the death of founding member Andy Fletcher – you’d forgive the now-duo for leaning heavily into their latest full-length. They did, to begin with, slowly defrosting the chilly crowd with ‘My Cosmos Is Mine’ and ‘Wagging Tongue’, some of which were still shell-shocked from the synaptic Berlin-appropriate techno blaring throughout the cavernous venue ahead of their entry to the stage.
A career-spanning set ensued from then onwards. Showcasing Depeche Mode’s muscular industrialism and crunching electro-rock grooves with staples like ‘Walking In My Shoes’ and surprise inclusion ‘Policy Of Truth’, it was ‘Everything Counts’ from 1983’s Construction Time Again that first drew rapturous whoops and hollers as Martin Gore expressively mashed the keys of his melodica.
Toning down the intensity with acoustic versions of ‘Strangelove’ and ‘Heaven’, principal songwriter Gore took centre stage, his pained, operatic vocal offering emotional heft throughout the mellow intermission. Gahan’s vocal – though thunderously powerful still – isn’t quite pitch perfect with a few duff notes here and there, but the 61-year-old remains an expert in theatricality.
Prancing and pirouetting like a whirling dervish, Gahan conducts his own words and the rapturous crowd with a Leonard Bernstein freneticism, intermittently screaming “fuck yeah” and needing a little excuse to writhe his dainty hips.
A band that has continuously endorsed campness despite their darkness – probably why their fizzy, finger-snapping debut single ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’ has stuck around – Gahan begins the night dressed in a flared suit with giant cuffs and collar, an homage to David Bowie’s Thin White Duke maybe but closer resembling Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen’s flamboyant aesthetic. Returning later in his trademark leather waistcoat, Gahan undeniably oozes battle-damaged sex appeal more than ever.
The anguished catharsis of ‘Stripped’ and ‘Enjoy The Silence’ hit hard still, as does the band’s iconic Elvis and Priscilla Presley-inspired anthem from the 1990 album Violator in ‘Personal Jesus’, which brings the evening to its conclusion. However, the biggest cheer was reserved for ‘World In My Eyes’, with images of late member Andy Fletcher projected behind the band.
Much of Depeche Mode’s music has been preoccupied by love, death, guilt and sin. On tonight’s performance, Dave Gahan and Martin Gore proved there’s plenty of life left in the duo.
Photo credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images