Simon Price on Depeche Mode - You wait for ages for a different sort of frontman, then two show up at once
Saturday 01 June 2013
For a man who has been through not just one fire, but two – heroin addiction and cancer – Dave Gahan is a highly dynamic frontman. And Depeche Mode effectively have a spare one of those, in the shape of Martin Gore. Both men, tonight, are exercising the right to bare arms. Beyond that, their styles are different: Gahan the tanned rock god in tattoos and Cuban heels, Gore the glamourpuss in blue eyeshadow, silver kilt and a star guitar borrowed from the Glitter Band.
And tonight, Depeche Mode need them both to carry the show. On paper, the setlist for the Delta Machine tour looks like a slog for the first half, before they break out the hits. Fortunately, gigs aren't played on paper but on stage. Whether or not you're in love with DM's recent material, they hold your attention, not so much with the scant visuals (Anton Corbijn-directed footage of dogs, angle-grinders, top hats and contortionists) but the sheer intensity of the performance.
The fact that Mode are unaccountably huge in Eastern Europe – they have an entire bar dedicated to them in Tallinn – suddenly makes sense under sustained exposure to the bleak industrialism of much of their oeuvre. And, even though Gore's solo acoustic section causes a drift to the bar, everyone returns for the dirty electro-glam of "Soothe My Soul".
And break out the hits they do. "A Question of Time", its lyric newly relevant in light of Operation Yewtree, is the first real anthem, and "Enjoy the Silence" into "Personal Jesus" is about as heavy-hitting a one-two as DM can muster. "Just Can't Get Enough" provides sugary respite from the endless noir, and "Never Let Me Down Again" is an utter juggernaut with which to end.
You're left wondering if the whole thing isn't a nod to the Protestant work ethic: if you want joy, you too first need to go through a few fires. For a city where anarchism is so deeply rooted, from the CNT stronghold of Orwell's day to the Okupa y Resiste squat nestling under Park Güell, Barcelona sure knows how to put on an orderly music festival. Now in its 13th year, Primavera Sound (*****) currently takes place in the Parc del Forum, a massive concrete exhibition space by the sea.
It's run with a level of organisation that defies all the national clichés. There's never a time when you can't find a bar without a queue, or a bench to sit on. There are cloakrooms and lockers, and a shuttle-service between stages. And there's no mud. Essentially an Anglo-American festival on Catalan soil – roughly half the crowd are Brits – this year's bill is noticeably "classic".
Blur inevitably go down riotously. Fellow Rollercoaster veterans The Jesus and Mary Chain used to be my idea of delinquent cool, so it's sobering to see the Reids grey-white on top. But, to coin a lyrical phrase, I don't care 'bout the state of their hair, and they're sounding mighty right now, notably "Sidewalking", their Duane Eddy via L L Cool J monster.
Another grizzled Rollercoaster rider is J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. Just as his hair has greyed naturally while retaining exactly the same style, so his music has matured to attain a beauty that's both new and same-as-it-ever-was. Excerpts from latest album I Bet on Sky can live alongside "Freak Scene", "Start Choppin'" and The Cure's "Just Like Heaven", and on all of them J's flame-fingertipped soloing is more scorching than the sun. Lastly, it's a pleasure to see My Bloody Valentine with a new album to perform, and in a setting where you can stand sufficiently far away not to need earplugs.
The Darkness warm up their Hot Cakes for the festival season with a couple of small shows at the Grand Hall, Scarborough (Mon) and Kasbah, Coventry (Tue). Meanwhile, with a new album Hearts & Knives (their first in 29 years) out now, Steve Strange’s reactivated New Romantic heroes Visage play Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen, London (Wed).
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