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Depeche Mode @ Telenor Arena, Oslo

Storm Hans has been and gone, but now there came on the West Wind Storm Depeche to Telenor Arena. In a concert which spanned the band’s whole career, we had the chance to experience the best of their earlier output almost seamlessly integrated with their newest work.

Fredag 11 August

Storm Hans has been and gone, but now there came on the West Wind Storm Depeche to Telenor Arena. In a concert which spanned the band’s whole career, we had the chance to experience the best of their earlier output almost seamlessly integrated with their newest work. This wasn’t a greatest hits show – they are touring the new album (we got five songs), and the sound world – the live sound world of that record – dominated a concert whose arrangements were dense and powerful. That was so from the first, with the pulsing cacophony of «My Cosmos Is Mine».

Although not formally a rock band, Depeche Mode have played the concerts on this tour with that kind of energy and leaning in that direction. We have real bass guitar, played by long-time collaborator and keyboard maestro Peter Gordeno, and the high-power drumming of Christian Eigner which support that style of musical direction. It was also a very physical concert, beyond the sensation of throbbing bass or pounding bass drum in our chests. Dave Gahan is 61 years young, twirling and dancing whenever he wasn’t signing, feeling the music as much as the fans. If he wasn’t dancing, he was conducting the standing crowd as they took their part, yelling «Try walking in my shoes» in response to Dave’s usual «Say what?» and joining in without any prompt on «Everything Counts».

Telenor Arena is renowned for having poor sound, but on this occasion, there could be no complaint. When the sound was fullest, as on «Speak to Me» and «I Feel You», it was still clear, a wall of sound, not noise, but when the sound was more sparse, as on «In Your Room», Martin Gore’s clean guitar stood out clear from the background. There were only a few moments where Dave Gahan’s vocals did not stand out from the backing but that vocal performance was largely excellent, rich and sonorous with few slips of key, either when singing with strength or on the more subtle pieces like «Sister of Night», or rising to the top of his range on «Precious», and then in a special moment later in the concert. Martin Gore had two songs and he got a good reception as he so often does, many in the crowd singing along. When it came to his second, «Soul with Me», where he was backed just by Gordeno’s night-club piano, the audience was hushed – talking at the back of the standing crowd noticeably stopped. In Oslo. Think about that for a moment.

«Martin Gore! …. An angel in disguise!» declared Gahan as he returned to the stage. It was a triumphant performance from both of them. Gahan had looked exultant as he took a vocal break during «In Your Room». When he was thrown a rose on one of his trips to the end of the cat walk he bowed and mouthed «for me?» and then looking through the crowd for the person who had thrown it, he gently threw it back «I don’t deserve it – I really don’t». We can argue about that later, Hr Gahan.

The set overall was very well designed, contoured. We got some changes of texture and pace, just small dips in the rollercoaster, like «Everything Counts» coming after «In Your Room». Songs were often extended, with the opening measures held open for a few more bars before the main riff came in, like on «Stripped». We also had genuine moments of softness, like «Sister of Night», and the later «World in my Eyes», which was more understated, dedicated as it was to «your friend and mine» Andrew Fletcher, whose photographs stood on the screens by the stage, slowly changing through the song, his eyes closing as Gahan sang «Let me put you on a ship». Dave stood at his mic for most of the song, to one side, leaving Fletcher’s face in the middle of the main screen, giving him a centre-stage place that he rarely took during concerts. They don’t lean too heavily on that context, on those memories and that sadness, but it is hard not to reflect on it during «Ghosts Again» with its ambiguous video, an update of Ingmar Bergman’s «Det Sjunde Inseglet», with two figures of Death playing chess against one another – but for what?

This atmosphere of bitter sweetness came back at the end of the concert, in a brilliant piece of musical direction. In a concert full of climaxes, whether from the arrangement, with Eigner’s drums going berserk at the end of a number, or from sheer exuberance like on «I Feel You» (which was so perfect, it could have finished the show), to take the start of the encore down to the most bare, the most delicate, was genius. Gore and Gahan came to the end of the catwalk and sang «Waiting for the Night» as a duet with only keyboard backing. It was a moment of astonishing beauty. Both vocal performances were excellent, perfectly in tune and in tune with each other’s delivery. The crowd, which had been along for the physical ride of the main part of the concert, and which had reached a kind of frenzy during the «Enjoy the Silence» before the break, was still and breathless then. When the singing stopped, and the two men embraced, as they went back to the stage, the crowd spontaneously started repeating the bare vocal line which Gore sings at the end of the piece, and Gordeno started playing the keyboard motif again. The communication with the audience was never more tangible.

The rest of the encore was perhaps a little more nostalgic, but none the worse for it. «Just Can’t Get Enough» was received with a surprised cheer – it’s nice that not everyone looks up the set list before they go – and «Never Let Me Down Again» had the whole crowd waving their arched arms in time to Gahan’s frantic conducting.  It’s near-obligatory at their concerts now. And no less the close of «Personal Jesus». Songs that «always» finish a show can get worn out, and this is no exception, but last night, I think because of the overall shape of the show, the musical direction, the quality of the sound, and even the engagement of the audience, it sounded really good, full of fresh energy and authenticity.

It had been a near perfect show, of excellent pace, pause, and poise. The band were on top form, Gahan’s vocals were generally very good, the sound was unusually excellent, and the arrangements brought a unity to songs which stretched across forty-two years. If we had to have another storm in Norway, this was the one. 5/6

Text: Alex Maines
Photography: Anne-Marie Forker