Depeche Mode At The Glasgow SECC
By Matthew Magee ~
To the casual observer, Depeche Mode may seem no more than purveyors of chart synth niceties with ideas above their station. But to millions of utterly devoted fans, the band are an altogether more serious proposition.
After a 30-year career taking in drug dependencies, bickering and a cancer scare this year for singer Dave Gahan, would the synth veterans still sound relevant, decades after eschewing live instruments as a novelty?
If all you heard were the characterless opener ‘In Chains’ or the emptily anthemic ‘Walking In My Shoes’, you might advise the band to stick to the solo projects.
Gahan’s voice can be heroically banal, a characterless, expressionless honk set to robotic, pounding beats and unchanging chords. The devotional roars from an ageing but ecstatic crowd seemed hard to fathom.
But it was soon clear that there can be a magic in the monotony, a hypnotic lure written into those pre-programmed synth lines. And that the combination of Gahan’s and songwriter Martin Gore’s voices can take on a magnificently creepy, ghostly charge.
The other-worldly harmonies that appeared as if from nowhere in ‘World In My Eyes’ were like cold fingers on the spine, a harmonically inventive jolt among the monotonous chugging.
These shards of ingenious clarity make sudden sense of the grim, single-chord grinding going on underneath.
Like the lack of expression and range in Gahan’s voice, the dirge-like absence of harmonic variety becomes a choice, a blackness at the bleak heart of the music.
Moments of beauty and horror pierce the monotony. The chanted chorus of new song ‘Wrong’ manages to turn one syllable into the robotic essence of despair.
And the ghoulish, breathy climax of ‘Personal Jesus’ mines the same chilling, disturbing seam.
Even when Depeche Mode’s sonic oblivion is more insipid than inspired, there is always something striking to look at; their use of the massive video wall a masterclass of visual acrobatics.
Easily the oddest parts of the show, though, were the interludes in which Gore sang accompanied only by a piano. It seemed to be beamed in from another gig altogether.
Gore is no singer, but the material was even stranger than the hammy, vibrato-filled performance.
Piling chord onto chord and exploring some exotic harmonic territory, it seemed more like an audition to write the next sentimental West End blockbuster musical than it did a contribution to angst-filled pop art.
It was, though, just one more eccentric diversion in a engagingly mixed show of unusual, and unpredictable, delights.