The loss of band members that have contributed to some of the greatest acts of all time in the last couple of years is incalculable. Taylor Hawkins. Charlie Watts. Christine McVie. Such figures weren’t the frontpeople of their outfits, but were the beating hearts, and their absence has left an indelible mark on each of their former bandmates.
Depeche Mode have been grappling with a loss of their own, following the passing of keyboardist and founding member Andy Fletcher almost exactly a year ago. But at Twickenham Stadium, Dave Gahan and Martin Gore ensured any grief was transmuted into a lust for life; a joie de vivre that whilst some can comprehend, hardly any can channel through the back catalogue of the synth-pop heroes.
Their most clear-cut dedication to “Fletch” came via their rendition of ‘World In My Eyes’, the opening track to their game-changing 1990 album Violator, whereby huge black-and-white images of the late bandmate were beamed on-screen – one with him wearing glasses, one without, another clasping his forehead as though still sighing at his fellow bandmates, keeping them in-check.
But true to the title of their fifteenth studio album Memento Mori – a Latin expression that translates as “remember you must die” (a name, remarkably, selected before Fletcher’s unexpected death) – a life-affirming charge ran through the entire proceedings. This was a show devoid of over-sentimentality, in its place a sense that life’s fleeting and, whilst we can, we must enjoy what we have, and dance to its many rhythms.
Kicking-off with the shuddering synths of Memento Mori opener ‘My Cosmos Is Mine’, the 80,000-plus capacity venue was brought under Gahan’s spell, as he instructed the crowd, “Don’t play with my world / Don’t mess with my mind,” transfixing those from the front row to the very back into a bewitching sense of togetherness.
And just as the space was brought together, so too was a sense of time, with fellow Memento Mori number ‘Wagging Tongue’ followed by rousing Songs of Faith and Devotion cut ‘Walking in My Shoes’, toying with our interests in the new stuff, and our deep-rooted love for the old.
Depeche Mode have of course long-been proponents of a sense of melodrama, as one of the leading lights of a flamboyant British pop uprising in the eighties. Here, Gahan cast a Dracula-like figure with a mischievous streak; a debonair demeanour that could pause and have the whole crowd’s attention at will, before spinning like a Sufi whirler, revealing the blue opal back of his waistcoat.
‘Everything Counts’ was one of the first real singalongs, the crowd revelling in repeating back to Gahan “everything counts in large amounts” – needless to say, he knows this better than most, and was leading by example.
Gore’s assumption of vocal duties on ‘Question Of Lust’ was masterful. Whilst it was sung with a fist-pump landing on every refrain, its relationship wisdom and swaying speed typified the skilled pacing of the whole show. It allowed for the likes of later belter ‘I Feel You’ to be dialled-up and be the full arena anthem it is, Gahan again playing with a sense of duality as he traversed from synth-pop orchestrator to bona fide rock god.
Their prior working of Memento Mori lead single ‘Ghosts Again’, with its black-and-white video played in its entirety behind them, marked another impressive weaving of old and new.
But make no mistake, it really is the classics that cut deepest – and Depeche Mode have them in spades. Timed almost to perfection with the setting sun, those oh-so-recognisable synths pronounced ‘Enjoy the Silence’, as Gahan strutted over to stage-left, one arm tucked behind his back, the other pointing out towards Gore, as though presenting him and the distinctive riff like a box of treasure.
The encore brought beautiful, spacious ‘Waiting for the Night’ and yet more classics. Depeche Mode fans had been spilling out of the pubs of leafy Twickenham since lunchtime – and the infectious box of synthesised party tricks that comprise ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’ was exactly the sort of moment they’d been waiting for. Indeed, few tracks are as embedded in British pop culture.
After a near three-hour setlist, they closed with marauding, bluesy ‘Personal Jesus’, with seductive red lighting beamed around the ever-darker stadium. You felt Gahan and Gore could go the same length again – and could provide an alternative setlist to match. The sexagenarian icons showed if your heart and soul is in the right place, you don’t lose energy, but it grows, built upon with every show. And that is the greatest tribute they could pay to a former bandmate.