In many respects, Depeche Mode are somewhat of an anomaly. While their peers from their formative era have simply called it a day or dissolved into indefinite hiatus, Depeche Mode, since their formation in 1980, have managed to remain creatively relevant without fully embracing the mainstream. Moreover, internal tensions and drug and alcohol problems (frontman Dave Gahan overdosed on heroin in 1996) haven’t managed to rip the band asunder, either. So, fourteen albums and as many tours later, it feels like a minor miracle that Depeche Mode’s Global Spirit tour stop at a near sold-out 3Arena is happening at all.
If previous Depeche Mode albums were preoccupied with lust, self-loathing and redemption, their latest Spirit is a work that sees them newly politicised, with its appeals to rise up against the advent of fascist movements and technological enslavement looming large. In fitting with the album’s themes, a snippet of The Beatles’ ‘Revolution’ is blasted over the PA before the band emerge with the aptly titled ‘Going Backwards’. Frontman Dave Gahan appears silhouetted against a huge digital screen which will feature some intermittent, eye-catching Anton Corbijn-directed visuals throughout the night. As the song kicks into second gear, he arrives front of stage. Gahan is extraordinary: a sleek 55 years old, he ramps up the crowd to the point of delirium, with a strutting showmanship that would make Mick Jagger look lethargic. It’s utterly relentless, almost to the point where you’d believe he’d still be doing it if there was no one in attendance. Gahan moves and cajoles like a man desperately battling his demons (and winning). Next to him, chief songwriter/guitarist Martin Gore is a steadier, more reserved presence while Andy ‘Fletch’ Fletcher is inconspicuously low-key behind his synth.
Live, the band are augmented by a touring second keyboardist and drummer, with the live drums in particular adding muscular heft to songs that are possibly more electronically nuanced on record. For the first half of the set, cuts from their 1990s and 2000s catalogue are given prominence: the electro-rock pulse of ‘It’s No Good’, ‘Barrel Of a Gun’, ‘Useless’ and ‘In Your Room’ being particular highlights. For a stripped-back ‘A Question Of Lust’ and ‘Home’ Martin Gore takes over vocal duties while Gahan disappears. Gore has a decent voice but Gahan’s frenetic on-stage presence and vocal range is one of the Mode’s major selling points and Gore just can’t match that. It’s an odd detour that flatlines the atmosphere somewhat but it’s redeemed by the sweeping closing coda of ‘Home’ which the crowd triumphantly echo back to the stage while Gahan returns for the final act.
From here on in it feels like an effortless home run. An elongated ‘Everything Counts’ lifts the mood, a beefed-up ‘Enjoy The Silence’ naturally receives one of the loudest cheers of the night while the obligatory, perfectly synchronised arm-waving orchestrated by Gahan during ‘Never Let Me Down Again’ is both euphoric and moving. For the encore, Gore returns to vocal duties for a piano-led ‘StrangeLove’ while the final triptych of ‘Policy Of Truth’, ‘A Question Of Time’ and ‘Personal Jesus’ are astonishing reminders of the enduring dark power of their music, songs that sound utterly familiar and accessible yet still retain a certain mystique.
As the band lap up the cheers and whistles at the show’s conclusion, looking genuinely in awe at the Irish crowd’s reception, there’s a sense that no one really wants it to end. Depeche Mode will do it all over again in a couple of days’ time but tonight they played like a band with something to prove, a band playing like they might never play again. No one could accuse them of going through the motions. Extraordinary.
Depeche Mode photographed for State by Leah Carroll