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Concert Review
 
CONCERT REVIEW by Luca Chichizola
DEPECHE MODE

Milan
San Siro Stadium
18th June 2009

 

 

Depeche Mode
Goooood eeeeevening, Milan!!!!! Wow, these words (although highly unoriginal) still bring shivers down my spine whenever I hear them screamed by Dave Gahan, the charismatic frontman of Depeche Mode
Being a Devoted, a follower of the cult of Depeche Mode, means that all their album releases (almost every 4-5 years) are an event: the frenzy when the album is released (and this time it was even higher, since it came in a very special and luxurious boxset with every kind of goodies inside), the eager collecting of all the singles in all the possible formats (hell, I am even collecting the vinyl versions even if I no longer have easy access to a turntable!), the T-shirts, and of course the concerts. In 2006 I had been to Manchester in occasion of the “Touring the Angel” tour, and it was a fantastic evening. How could I miss this time? Yeah, I know, I haven’t written very kind words about their new album “Sounds of the Universe”, and I still stand on every word I have written: I like the new effort from my idols from Basildon quite a bit less than all of their previous records. Sure, it is pleasant, elegant, polished and competent enough (apart from a couple of truly bad songs) and it has some really charming moments, but after two months still something fails to click inside me. Probably it has something to do with me being “old fashioned”, or more probably with me enjoying (and empathizing a lot with) the good old dark side of Depeche Mode, the “pain and suffering in various tempos”, their fascinating, twisted, perverted and corrupt soul. And, as a consequence, I couldn’t help but being a little upset by their new, lighter, (slightly) more optimistic and “conventional” style (though it’s still striking how unique they are even in this latest album).
So last November, even before we had had a chance to hear some of the new material, my friend Alessandro (great lover of Talisker and Arbeg) and I had bought our tickets for one of the two Italian dates of the “Tour of the Universe”: Milan, Meazza/San Siro Stadium, June 18th. Yes, Depeche Mode playing at the “Scala of Football” (that’s soccer, for you uneducated Yanks) could be nothing but a MASSIVE event. Anyway, as the days neared to the night of the gig, some dark omen was cast upon us. At the beginning of May, the tour was stopped because of health problems for Dave Gahan: as it turned out, the doctors accidentally found a malignant cancer in his bladder and had to remove it surgically. It’s weird how life is: for years you lead a self-destructive life-style, on a steady diet of heroin, as if you couldn’t care less if you would ever reach old age… and then an angel saves you on the brink of death. You sober up, you get wiser, you actually start loving life again. You build a family, you have a child. You sing every night with the passion of an 18 years old, you publish two solo albums (one of them honestly quite good), and you actually start being a hell of a creative input for the band in which you have simply been a frontman for years. You find new enthusiasm in life, you clearly LOVE every minute of what you are doing. And then… you find a malignant cancer in your body, as if God was there to remind you of the times when you didn’t care a shit about this life that you’re loving so much now, and that all this new life could suddenly have an end. Yeah, it may sound spooky (or corny, depending on how much you love or hate Depeche Mode) but it’s EXACTLY the same theme that the band had covered in 1984 with their chilling song “Blasphemous Rumours”. Luckily for us, but most of all for Dave (we actually love the guy like a brother, and would like to meet him once in our life and shake his hand, give him a hug and simply say to him “thank you for leading us through so many years with your voice”), all turned out well and the cancer was removed… so you can imagine the joy of seeing him back on stage, full of renewed energy just a few days after his operation.
We arrived in Milan in the mid-afternoon, a hot and humid day of the worst kind you can experience in Northern Italy. So hot that we were sweating like fountains even when standing still.
Luckily, San Siro stadium is covered for the largest part of it, so once inside we were at least slightly better than we had been outside during our quest for the nicest T-shirts at the various stands (why do the unofficial ones have always to be more attractive, not to mention cheaper, than the official ones? Damn!). The sight inside the stadium was impressive: it was still partly empty, but slowly filling up and already giving us a taste of how crowded it would get. Luca
As it turned out later, the audience that night was of approximately 70000 people… and you can imagine how loud and cheerful such a large gathering of people can be. Yep, and that’s where my two biggest complaints for the gig come. First, there were TOO many people. But not only too many, actually many more than the venue could take: at the beginning of the concert, it was immediately clear that (since “the grabbing hands grab all they can”) the promoters of the event had sold many more tickets than the number of available seats.
The result? People not knowing where to go, stomping the feet of those who had secured a (rightfully paid for) seating place and gathering around like a flock of sheep obstructing the view from the seated places. Of course we solved this by standing too, but paying a bonus for a seating place and then having to stand is a bit of a fraud. Second problem, of which we already got a hint of it during the performance of the support band: the wolume was abso-fucking-lutely low. San Siro
I like to listen to my music loud enough to have punch but not too loud, so I hate rock concerts where my guts are shaking and where I wish I had brought some heavy-duty ear plugs (of the kind we use at the engine test benches) with me. So, a reasonable volume is fine with me: if I want to go deaf and enjoy the experience of 120 dB I’ll go to the Caselle airfield and ask for a permission to go on the airstrip when the Eurofighter is taking off (after all, I have worked for the military and I still have connections). But this wasn’t the case of this gig: the volume was so low that sometimes it was hard to understand what song had started playing, and overall all the songs lacked the needed punch, not to mention that the subtleties in arrangements were lost under the cheering and singing-a-long of the 70000 Devoted mentioned above.
It turns out that this unusual restraint was due to a recent decree of the over-eager mayor of Milan, Mrs. Letizia Moratti: well, a heartfelt f**k you to Mrs. Moratti, who from the mummified look of her face has obviously never been to a rock concert. And, while we are at it, f**k her brother too (big oil tycoon and owner of the nauseating Inter football club – sorry, Alessandro). Anyway, over with the bad stuff, because the evening was magical…   Letizia
The concert started, as in previous gigs from the tour, with three songs from the new album: “In chains” (its long intro so perfectly suited for building anticipation into the show), the rousing “Wrong” and the fine “Hole to feed”. Good songs, among the best ones from “Sounds of the Universe”, but just an appetizer for what was yet to come… yes, because we were then treated to a lovely and energetic version of “Walking in my shoes” (with the extended and rawer bassy intro that is now customary after the Devotional Tour and the “Grungy Gonads” remix of the song), the classy and ultra-cool “It’s no good”, the usually punchy live version of 1986’s “A question of time” (because you may not know that since 1993 Depeche Mode have been employing a live drummer on stage, which accounts for “rockier” and rawer alternate takes of their all-electronic album songs: and Mr. Christian Eigner sure is an exciting live drummer!), and a sparkling and heart moving rendition of “Precious” (a song which anyone who has children and knows the personal story of Martin Gore will find absolutely touching). Personally, I was overwhelmed by the following song, one of their absolute darkest and most nihilistic: “Fly on the windscreen”, unrelentless, gritty and mean, and it was the first time I heard it played live in person. Sure, the “Devotional” version from the early ‘90s was still grittier, jerkier and meaner, but I’m not complaining. Then, as it is usual for Depeche Mode concerts, the pace slowed a little: Mr. Gahan took a break, and it was time for Mr. Gore to sing two of his songs personally.
Depeche
If you know your DM, you know that since the early ‘80s Martin Gore writes the songs and Gahan sings them except for a few (although this changed in the last two albums, where Gahan asked to include some of his compositional and writing efforts too for a change, and at times with very good results). It’s not that Martin Gore, in addition to being a great writer, hasn’t got a nice voice and so prefers Dave to sing in his place. On the contrary, Martin has a beautiful voice, probably even more skilled and emotional than Dave’s. Get yourself a copy of “Counterfeit 2” (where Martin covers songs from Nick Cave, David Bowie, Kurt Weill, Iggy Pop, Brian Eno, Lou Reed and others) and you’ll hear what I mean. Or the “demos” disc in the “Sounds of the Universe” boxset, where many of the classic DM songs are performed by their own author. The truth is that he has a more delicate quality in his chords, while many songs actually call for Gahan’s operatic and menacing baritone. So Martin, being a very unselfish and humble guy, prefers his friend Dave to sing them. Anyway, no Depeche Mode concert can exist without at least two songs sung by Martin himself, and usually it’s one of the most intimate moments of the gig also thanks to the sparse acoustic piano and guitar arrangement (very different from the one in the albums). This time, Martin chose the new song “Little soul” and his classic workhorse “Home”, one of the most beautiful and haunting songs ever on the theme of the beauty and comfort of death(!). Great stuff, although personally I had enjoyed even more what he had done in the previous tour, when he dug out from the archives some extremely old and moving songs like “It doesn’t matter”, “Shake the disease” and “Leave in silence”.
After this break, Dave was on stage again. Nice to see him on good health: we were a bit worried because he usually is very dynamic, and we didn’t want him to stress his stamina too much after the operation. OK, he was a little more static than usual, but he didn’t spare any of his microphone stand twirling antics: let’s just hope that he will still be fine on the long run, because in his place I would have called it quits for a while and got six months’ rest… But luckily Dave is made of stronger stuff than I am, and actually we noticed that Dave’s voice was even better than usual in spite of everything. Yes, during the whole show he managed an incredible control of his voice, and an unexpectedly extended vocal range: sometimes in the past (either in Manchester or in live recordings) he could sound a little nasal and “stretched” in some passages during the performance, but this time he truly topped himself from start to finish.
Depeche Mode
The next song was Dave’s own “Come back”, in a version which is hands down the best I have ever heard: rocky and lively, not as noisy as the album mix and not as wimpy as the demo. Great stuff! Another pleasant surprise was “Peace”, a song which I had found a bit cheesy on the album and which sounded pleasantly majestical in such a big stadium. The rest of the show was completely dedicated to some of the legendary old hits: the brooding “In your room”, the arena-stomper “I feel you”, the moody and energetic “Policy of truth”, the now-classic live version “Enjoy the silence” (with an always different guitar solo from Martin), and of course “Never let me down again”: a song which is always played live and as such might seem a little abused… but you should have seen the waving of hands from the crowd in San Siro… massive!
It was then time for the encores. First the ominous “Stripped”, then the wicked and tongue-in-cheek S/M hymn “Master and servant”, then another song I had never heard played live in spite of being one of their classics from the ‘80s: “Strangelove”. To end the show, a usually fine rendition of “Personal Jesus” (though I preferred the extended final guitar soloing from “Touring the Angel”), and then a choice of song which was just as great as “Goodnight lovers” had been three years ago: “Waiting for the night”, in a specially sparse and delicate acoustic arrangement with Martin and Dave under the spotlight in front of the stage’s catwalk. And then, moving as usual, a big hug between the two… friends for a life, band companions for a life… and in a blink, two wonderful hours had passed.
It was a pleasure to see Depeche Mode live once again, and especially being there to shout all of our gratitude to the band at the top of our lungs. It was nice to see our old friends on stage, and give them our support once again. Little did we know that on the next day Depeche Mode, stunned by the incredible success of their Italian gigs, would announce two more dates… including one in my hometown of Torino on November 26th 2009. Oh, well, I guess we’ll have to attend there too (if we still manage to find the tickets, since they went away like hot cakes in a matter of minutes)… and it will be a pleasure because (apart from the organization issues) the show was great.
Maybe next time we’ll also manage to see something of keyboard player Andrew Fletcher… because at San Siro we were in a lateral position and we could only guess he was there! Tour of the Universe
Special thanks, for the wonderful company and friendship, to the two lovely young Devotees we’ve met in San Siro at the gig, Licia and Teresa. Can’t wait to see you soon again at the next DM concert!
As usual, our recommendation: please buy Depeche Mode’s music! All concerts from the “Tour of the Universe” are available in official recordings of the highest quality here. - Luca Chichizola



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