‘Been a long day? Now you get to see the best!’ frontman Dave Gahan offers up as reward to a heady crowd, who had been percolating along with the initial first songs in the set of the mega electro giants and senior statesmen, Depeche Mode. The pioneers of the early 80’s synth movement were the headlining act for Saturday’s mainstage at the Isle of Wight Festival this year, a rare occurrence as the band almost never play festivals. They released their 14th studio album last year and have been touring intrepidly since.
Dave was decked out in his usual slightly goth yet dapper finery, emblazoned in all the requisite trappings to display his rock star coolness. Dave and Depeche Mode as a unit have remained true to their roots without doubt. They still occupy the dark, brooding place they always have, never once dipping in form for a single minute. This is not ambient music for simple, reflective, interior moments. Their sound has always balanced upon the indulgent, languid thoughts of love, lust and longing devotion. Their newest album veers slightly away from that modus turning focus outwards to address the world at present, giving thoughtful pause or criticism and rallying cries at times throughout.
The partnership of Dave and primary songwriter Martin Gore still rules absolute and creates a symbiosis that anchors everything they create. And, the relationship between them works seamlessly despite a few years of tumult some time ago. The edges have been duly smoothed over and now the Depeche Mode machine hums perfectly. Additionally, taking in the drama of the live performance and Dave’s endless charisma, you can fully appreciate why so many other bands take as gospel Depeche Mode’s blueprint when formulating their own stage success.
So, as a music journalist and near lifelong Depeche Mode fan, this was really a full circle moment for me. To be stood there analysing more intensely than ever, which took some effort to achieve I fully admit, was the ultimate prize and a surreal experience. (And, staying professional when meeting keyboardist/backing vocalist Peter Gordino before their set pressed me to my mature limits).
With the set opener they have used this entire tour, ‘Going Backwards’, accompanied by plenty of intense videoscape to go with it (which occupies a pivotal role for all of their tours), the band came across as slick and clean as ever. They establish plainly without any hesitation from the off to make the crowd theirs to do with as they wish. The audience was not wholly stalwart Depeche fans but there was still big love flowing freely back to the stage.
They made sure to visit all of the expected favourites, but added some funk and embellishment to freshen songs which translated beautifully. Dave was clearly feeling his Elvis deep, deep down at times in the set and lingering in some welcome, soulful delivery. They thankfully played what I consider to be the standout track, ‘Cover Me’, from their latest album, and it was something akin to spine tingling. The widescreen poignancy of that song, the epic and complex longing of it, really casts a golden hue of brilliance especially live. Not to diminish any other songs by no means, the entire set was luminous. As was Martin’s pared back rendition of ‘The Things You Said’ when he solely took the stage briefly; his voice timeless as ever. But, the igniter song was actually in the encore, ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’. A firm favourite always. Nothing disappointed from start to finish, their mastery shone through, qualifying their Rock-God, cult-like status.
There was undeniably no better way to end Day 3 of the festival, and one I will never,ever forget.
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