BBC 6 Music Festival, Glasgow, review: Depeche Mode close event with a fiery performance at Barrowlands

For all his gothically studied brow-furrowing, Dave Gahan is at heart an old-fashioned crooner of ranging emotions, switching between hopeful tenderness and bitter regret with ease

Dave Pollock
Monday 27 March 2017 12:03 BST
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Gahan, like Iggy Pop or Mick Jagger, is the kind of frontman you want to watch; an enigmatic character in black
Gahan, like Iggy Pop or Mick Jagger, is the kind of frontman you want to watch; an enigmatic character in black (BBC)

The sense of special occasion exclusivity of the BBC 6 Music Festival’s final night in Glasgow was summed up during Lauren Laverne’s introduction of the three-day event’s headline guests onstage.

It’s been 23 years, she said, since Depeche Mode last played the Barrowlands.

Those not already going wild on the old East End hall’s famous sprung dancefloor might be minded to note that this 2,000-capacity venue is a far cry from the 12,000-capacity Hydro Arena which the band will be back to play in a few weeks.

For a group who just released their fourteenth album Spirit to not a hint of critical disdain or public boredom, this fiery performance – at what was essentially a promotional gig – is the definition of an intimate show by arena rock standards.

Although it may not feel like it at the back of the packed and heaving hall, to be close enough to almost see the definition of Dave Gahan’s tattoos under that most Depeche Modish of fashion accessories, the black leather vest, is a close-up perspective not usually afforded to most audience-members.

It must be said that Gahan, like Iggy Pop or Mick Jagger, is the kind of frontman you want to watch; an enigmatic character in black, dancing with a weird metronomic strut; pacing the stage restlessly during the opener “Going Backwards” and embodying the oddly sexual gloom of a state-of-humanity address which declares, “We have not evolved/We have no respect/We’ve lost control”; switching his Christ-like, arms-outstretched pose into a whirling helicopter motion during “World in My Eyes”.

Yet for all his gothically studied brow-furrowing, Gahan is at heart an old-fashioned crooner of ranging emotions, switching between hopeful tenderness and bitter regret with ease.

It’s the mechanical grind of the music alongside him which darkens the tone of his voice, further serrating his punkish sneer during the clattering, Tubeway Army-sounding “So Much Love”, sharpening the sarcastic, lip curled delivery of “Corrupt”, and accentuating the lost yearning of “Cover Me”; in this context, the latter song’s apocalyptic plea, “We better take cover/Will you cover me?” is a shining pearl of romance amid a doomed world.

At heart, Depeche Mode remain a very entertaining rock’n’roll group with the rhythm of analogue drums to bolster their traditionally synthesised heart.

Guitarist Martin Gore’s adoption of lead vocals for “Home” sees the crowd holler back the lyric’s sustained and very emotional “woah-oh-oh” for what felt like an age after it had ended, while “Personal Jesus” and the encore of “Enjoy the Silence” receive as fierce a response as any other song played in the Barrowlands across the decades might have seen.

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And in their recent comeback track “Where’s The Revolution”, with the glowering insistence that “You’ve been pushed ’round/You’ve been lied to ... Come on people/You’re letting me down”, they’ve written a protest song for their times.

Across a weekend of music spanning three venues and various daytime talk events, Depeche Mode aren’t the only group on reunion duties.

With Sparks, Belle & Sebastian and Goldfrapp, as well as definitive Scottish artists deserving of a wider platform like Optimo, Sacred Paws and Anna Meredith, the Barrowlands is the venue to be in.

Friday night’s line-up was extraordinary, with a fiery set from The Jesus and Mary Chain and the evocative shoegaze nostalgia of Ride presaging comeback albums a combined 40 years in the making, with Warpaint and the dependably truculent Sleaford Mods lending great support.

Saturday is more club-orientated, featuring strangely addictive yacht rock for bass guitar from Thundercat and house music as prog exploration from Bonobo.

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