Review: Depeche Mode @ Royal Albert Hall, 17/02/10

I’ve been a Depeche Mode fan for over a decade and have now seen them twice in the two decades of this century so far.

Of course I wasn’t always a fan of them. I was a child during their first 10yrs of existence, and to me they were just another synthpop band who were notable for ‘that’ early hit from a debut album which shared its name with a toy.

Somehow, by the very end of the 90s I had started buying their albums (at first just as conversation fodder to impress someone). Not all of them, but many of the respected post mid 80’s ones, and from then on I followed all of their subsequent releases.

Depeche are a local band (or were) to me, sort of. Most of them are lads from Basildon, but their record label and a studio where they recorded one album are just strolls from me. So as well as liking them, it’s nice to know that one of da crew have made a dent in music history, even if it’s not so apparent by the lack of press enthusiasm in recent years.

I had very instantly written off Depeche Mode when I was probably about 5. I thought they were just twinkly and twee, and this was not what I was about as a teenager. What I didn’t know what was that they had incrementally changed. And perhaps more of the world outside the UK knows that then the world inside. I had been a mocker of DM. But I poured salt and pepper on my hat once I heard their 2 early 90’s albums.

Depeche Mode were always electronic. But what they developed into was a dark (because I agree with Martin Gore that his lyrics have some angle of hope, always) act that fused good hooks with great production. And then live they aren’t just a bunch of guys behind a couple of Casio keyboards; these guys have interesting video backdrops and eventually embraced with the past by adding in live guitars and drums.
It would be fair to call Depeche Mode a good general rock/pop band, as to call them an 80’s band would imply they only had a career in that one decade, and their style is not really boxed in by the label: synthpop.

Seeing them at the Albert Hall (I’d saw them at Wembley Arena on the previous tour) was a feast. It’s a bit like watching a big whale in an aquarium rather than at sea; you’re interested to see how this will work.
Though the size of the actual stage is probably no bigger than one you’d find in some schools, this didn’t equate to a budget feel. They still had their visuals and they still gave it their all. Probably more than their all, as this was for a good cause.

I’d managed to avoid The Horrors (no hyperlink for them), who to me are just a generic, formulaic indie-punk band and caught Roger Daltrey open the night by talking about the Teenage Cancer Trust. The video played reminded me how lucky I was not have ever needed the TCT, but if I did, how useful they could have been to me.

The band didn’t play many unusual songs, people speculated rarities to be played. However, they did play a couple of songs with a mini orchestra – which meant Martin Gore sung songs like One Caress as recorded, and Home and Come Back were made more majestic.

The one other highlight that the press picked up on was the guest appearance of Helen Wilbur…No, I mean Alan Wilder. I saw Martin usher a tall figure to the grand piano and was pretty sure it was a man. And suddenly, my brain processed why people were cheering for this woman dressed as a man. That’s a pretty bad mishearing though isn’t it?
Alan played piano to the Martin sung Somebody, then hugged his former band members who he’d last played with in ’94. This delighted everyone of course, and as someone who’d still only followed DM properly since they’d become a threesome, it was nice to see.

It was also rumoured that early band member Vince Clarke might have popped up for, perhaps ‘that’ song. But sadly, that didn’t happen. In all honesty, Clarke is more associated with Erasure now while Alan cannot really shake off the DM tag. Still, Clarke did sign the vinyl of the album he was on for giveaway on a charity auction at DM’s site.

They played for around 2 hours. The choreography of the band and audience was well rehearsed. If you weren’t doing anything, you should’ve stayed at home. I’m not one to sway my hands at Never Let Me Down Again (remember – I’ve been moulded as a hard rock boy/man), but I nodded my head and tapped along at my box seat – which was just as well, as I’d been walking all day prior.

I would put up some pictures or video, but there are already lots of better ones out there on selected services. I’d also made a pact with myself to not bother with clicking away non-stop, but just to sit there and enjoy it. And I did. I got to hear Stripped live for the first time ever too.

I hope Depeche Mode continue into old age like the Stones, as they are a gem whether you actually like them or not. There are not many bands from the 80s who are still going; those who are,  essentially proved that they were mining for the long haul rather than just a few years.

I wasn’t a great fan of Depeche’s latest album, but that aside they are a good band and great to see live. The Albert Hall gig was a special experience.


It’s Only Rock & Roll

It’s been a while since my last post. I’ve been distracted by juggling with two writing projects and also succumbing to the laziness of tweeting.

Yesterday I visited the British Music Experience for £1 (it’s ordinarily £15 for adults) and though it was fun, it’s perhaps worth half it’s retail price.

Before you enter the main exhibition you’re treated to a little video (well, large in screen size) of Lauren Laverne explaining how to explore the areas in tandem with your Smarticket, which allows you to bookmark areas of interest for later viewing online, as well as enabling you to download 3 songs for free off iTunes.

When you enter the exhibition the first thing you see is a gift shop, and it was there I picked up a couple of items while my friend spent £30 by picking up some iconic artwork and frames.

The experience covers British music from the 1940’s to present day. By having the word experience in there, this has allowed the event to tag some foreign artists like Jimi Hendrix as it was Britain that first cared about him. I even heard U2 a couple of times.

One thing I expected was that the experience was going to pander mostly to the most well known names and not necessarily the most respected, but they got the balance right. I wouldn’t bother being upset if your favourite artist isn’t in there as it’s about relating a decade rather than specific artists.

I was however glad to see that Iron Maiden, Motorhead, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Judas Priest were given some good attention as these guys were the lead figures in heavy music, and are still important today.

The segment I found most interesting though was a video presentation on UK Grime. I’m not a fan of that sort of music, but because I didn’t know much about it and it wasn’t a bunch of old white guys droning on about nearly medieval history, it stood out from a lot of the other exhibits.

There were other rooms in the place where you could try your hand at dancing (needless to say I didn’t embarrass myself) or have a go on some musical instruments. Although for the latter, the instruments could only be heard through headphones and you were goaded into playing along to a limited set of video songs.

Aside from interactive machines, essentially what you saw was memorabilia such as handwritten lyrics, clothes worn and instruments used. At a relaxed pace you can spend about 10-15 minutes in each of the decades.

Would I go there again? Probably not. But it wasn’t a bad day out at all; it just reminds you that Britain can pump out some good stuff if less than it used to. I can’t post any pictures as you’re not allowed to take any.

Another thing that enthused me was the Michael Jackson exhibition next door which costs £15 too. It had a limited run but was extended due to popularity.