This review has been submitted by Nikola Pokupec and it is a wonderful read which I know you'll love. It's as passionate a review as you'll read of any gig on the tour and it makes you feel like you're right there at the gig. Thanks very much Nikola. Also, a quick note for you all - the Nice review from 12 May has been delayed for a technical reason or two so this jumps the queue. That review will be up as soon as I can.
*WARNING: This review is blatantly subjective and includes many details that probably don’t interest the casual fan, but it’s not that many casuals read this wonderful blog. Just wanted to let you know that. I tried to be honest in my criticism and praise for the band along with trying to describe the general mood and flow of the whole day of the concert. Also, I’m not a native English speaker, so incredibly long sentences and some weird formulations or phrases might ensue. Enjoy!*
Even though it was already the fifth concert of the Global Spirit Tour, the Depeche Mode concert in Ljubljana was only my second ever by the band, which seems a bit weird. Why is that? They’ve been part of my life ever since my dad introduced me to his pirated 101 cassette some 16-17 years ago. My first concert was in Zagreb, 4 years ago during the Delta Machine Tour so this review will more or less be a comparison to that one and the shows we all know from their official live recordings, be it the exquisite Devotional from 1993 (actually out in 1994, but you know that, don’t you?), the wonderful One Night In Paris from 2002, the crazy Live In Milan from 2006 or the lethargic, but still passable TOTU: Live in Barcelona from 2010.
My Sunday morning started with a tedious two-and-a-half-hour train trip from my home-town in Croatia (Čakovec, but it’s not like anyone knows where that is) to Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, where the concert would take part at the small but wonderful Arena Stožice and where, incidentally, I’ve been spending most of my time for the last four years due to college (the city, not the arena).
The mentioned trip was made bearable by blasting Live In Berlin and the Live In Glasgow soundtracks through my headphones, hyping myself for the gig, which I would attend with my girlfriend who is a huge fan and - surprise, surprise - that’s how we met each other, thanks to our common interest in the wonderfully weird and salacious (thank you, James Ford) world of Depeche Mode.
Fast forward to 5PM that day, we arrived at the venue in a public transport bus, more than half full of people dressed in (at least) something black, from many different countries (I heard English, French and Italian, but there were also Croatians – us two at least) whereas the rest (the minority) was looking at us stumped at our weird-ish fashion sense and choice of apparel. Depeche have always taken pride at being different and doing things the alternative way, so be it.
The gate for the Golden Circle ticket holders was easy to locate, but a bit harder to see, due to a huge group of even more hardcore fans than us occupying the entrance, some of which have already arrived there at 10AM (rumours, but totally credible). We were given improvised queuing numbers (written on our hands with a permanent marker) but this order totally fell apart when the security open the doors, because we were let in a bit later than expected (doors opening was scheduled for 18.30) so everyone was very nervous and eager to get the best spots possible.
We managed to get a pretty good spot, even though we weren’t running for it like some others did – we ended up in the 6th or 7th row (you can judge by the photos, I thought the view was quite good). After settling in with a couple of overpriced beers in our hands, the long, almost three hour wait for the main act could begin. The Raveonettes started at roughly 19.45 and though I was impressed at first with the sound of the venue and the strong bass, I soon realised it was a bit overwhelming and that niggle would eventually last for the whole concert, which instantly made it less enjoyable than my previous Zagreb gig – additionally, the loudness levels were somehow just not high enough, which meant the sound wasn’t as immersive. That’s gripes out of the way, let’s get to the good bits e.g. the actual concert.
As you might already know, between the support act and the main gig, there’s a little techno set which is supposedly curated by none other than Mr. Gore himself, which was nice for passing the time, but once again - a little louder, please! After this set ends, there’s a snippet of Revolution by The Beatles (thank you, Shazam) and the lights go down – act one, begins.
The intro to the concert is good enough, though they’ve certainly done better (Plastikman’s Painkiller mix on The Singles Tour) or at least more dramatic in the past (curtains at Devotional or 101). What it is, is a modified version of Cover Me (Alt Out) from the deluxe version of Spirit with a background of the animated funny cartoon-y legs from the album cover, slowly zooming in which makes for some trippy viewing. Towards the end all members except Dave enter the stage to the sound of screaming girls and/or women in the crowd, with me and sporadic other male attendees included. I wasn’t reduced to tears as in Zagreb, because now I’m cool y’know, it’s not the first time I’m seeing the band live, but there was still that lump-in-the-throat feeling because you don’t see your heroes every day from up close as this, except on your computer screen. The set started with Going Backwards, with Mr. Gahan appearing discreetly at the second level of the stage (between the two projection screens), looking as cool as ever in one of his beloved suits and some sunglasses in front of colourful backdrops by their resident live projection creator and visual director for pretty much the last 30 years, Anton Corbijn (a detail which will certainly make for some stunning photos or shots of Mr. Gahan in the nowadays mandatory live recording some time later during the tour). I haven’t got much to say about the song except that, like pretty much all the songs from Spirit, it has lost a bit of its electronic edge live and the fact it’s brought down a key doesn’t help the energy levels at the start of the gig. A pleasant, if a bit meandering opener.
Next up was So Much Love, one of the songs I don’t like that much on record because it’s a bit too fuzzy and cluttered, whereas live it was one of the tracks from Spirit that benefited from simplification and the drumming really brought out the lovely beat (here’s hoping it will be a single and it gets a proper single mix with enhanced percussion). It got the crowd going a bit more than the opener, but still we were far from the unified participants as in the second part of the show. The projection on this song is a bit baffling, because it shows the band performing, so it’s a bit confusing choosing what to watch, because I found the visuals stunning.
Barrel Of A Gun was next, one of my all-time favourites which I thoroughly enjoyed, during which I belted out lyrics so loud I almost couldn’t hear Dave sing (which is good, because he uses a weird vocal melody that’s far from the album version and it just sounds wrong). This was the first song that I sensed the crowd got going a bit, it was a bit of an old hit, but still, we’re far from the culmination of this gig. A Pain That I’m Used To followed, which was, as well as BOAG, part of the tracks resurrected from the Delta Machine tour, which I found a bit lazy, but APTIUT worked so well in getting the crowd going and clapping a bit, so they obviously know what they’re doing. I love that version they’re performing, too (the Jacques Lu Cont Remix by Stuart Price). I found it a bit cringey the last time, seeing Peter Gordeno on bass guitar, but I loved it this time and you could really see how they feed off each other’s energy and how they love performing this song.
Corrupt was next up – I still can’t believe they’re performing this song live. It is my absolute favourite non-single from Sounds Of The Universe and one of my favourites from the Hillier years in general. Once again, I thoroughly enjoyed it because it gave off an even sleazier and dirtier vibe than the album version – I’ve always loved the sleazy side of Depeche.
In Your Room is finally performed in the proper album version – when I say proper – as proper as you can expect from the Depeche of late, who don’t particularly pay attention to details when it comes to live sound (I sorely missed the toms after the third verse, but hey at least there was no Zephyr Mix). The backing projections were very interesting and this was the first proper chorus we could sing along to, the atmosphere was beginning to really heat up.
The opening riff of World In My Eyes brought catharsis upon some in the crowd (judging by the sounds they were making) and it was the first proper stomper of the night, which brought along the deserved reaction from the crowd – the band had begun to perform with even more confidence, as far as I could tell. Dave brought back his trademark spin and the ladies went nuts for his hip shaking and other sensual (or should I say sexual?) moves he likes to do. The backing vocals from Martin were beautiful, especially the prolonged ooh and aahs at the end, making for a great segue into the next song, which is one of my favourites on the new record.
Cover Me worked well for the first ballad in the set and though many in the crowd just took their phones out and started recording instead of enjoying, Dave didn’t seem that bothered with it. He fully nailed the performance and got us properly going for the latter, instrumental half of the song. One thing I missed here is a more prominent sound of the sequencer, which makes this part of the song so beautiful, but the sound quality was mediocre throughout the show. That didn't lessen the experience though.
After Cover Me, it was time for Dave to get some rest backstage and for the resident songwriter to take the stage. Martin stunned the crowd with an exceptional, full on, album version performance of home, with Christian on drums and Fletch and Peter on synth, himself being on guitar and producing some beautiful vocals. He was all gleaming at the end of the song, he even got onto the catwalk to spur on the traditional cheers, which mimic the closing guitar riff. He then performed a lovely piano only version of A Question Of Lust and it was the first time since the intro and the band entering the stage, that I got the lump in the throat, maybe because I was so happy to be standing some 5 metres away from Martin Gore, singing beautiful love songs to me and my loved one.
Dave introduced himself back to the stage with a hearty performance of Poison Heart, a track which I thought would be a proper downer live, judging by the videos I’ve seen of the previous Spirit Tour performances, but it was not to be. Again, that might be due to the fact it’s one of my favourites from Spirit, but the performance was crisp, powerful and the vocals were stunningly emotional. It was followed by Where’s The Revolution, a track that I still can’t form a proper opinion about. It’s like John The Revelator for me, some days I love it, some days I just plain hate it and it gets on my nerves, it mainly has to do with the mood I’m in (it only really works when I’m a bit angry or have some other negative feelings bothering me). The visuals for Where's The Revolution were the cream of the crop for me at the concert, all very much in the style of the Spirit era, animated protest fists, marching legs, flags – pleasantly colourful, but powerful and performance-enhancing.
Where's The Revolution was the breaking point of the concert somehow, even though the sing-along didn’t work all that well as I saw it in some other cities, it marked a spike in the mood of the crowd and the event in general and what was to follow, was one of the best experiences I could imagine.
Wrong was the first song the crowd seemed to know word by word and was also one of those I thought I’d never see/hear live, as I missed on the Zagreb TOTU gig by a narrow margin. The song starts with the lovely synth riff, which is actually the Wrong (Reprise) which is a “hidden” track on SOTU, appearing some two or three minutes after the album closer, Corrupt, finishes. The performance was energetic and inspired, whereas the projections were reminiscent of Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures album covers, albeit brought into the digital age.
Everything Counts was next, a song we’ve known they would perform for quite some time now, as Dave stated in many of the interviews after the Milan press conference, he would like to see it return to the setlist, because of its political undertone which goes well with the overall thematic of Spirit. It had a lovely prolonged bass line intro, but no-one really knew what it was until the first screeching sounds appeared and then, with the drums and the main synth riff kicking in, the roof was fu*king off. The party could properly begin. Word by word, the crowd sang the lyrics as loud as they could, probably even outsinging Dave on some occasions, but the highlight was the lovely 101-style sing-along at the end.
Everything Counts was followed by a subdued performance of Stripped, which, in my opinion, could benefit from some stronger drums (it seems to have got a similar treatment as Black Celebration for the Delta tour, so it’s not all that explosive as we might know it from the 80s or 90s tours). The crowd participation was still on point, though many were rather recording it with their phones once again, instead of just enjoying Dave singing the chorus, which is a pretty rare occurrence on the 21st century renditions of the song.
The following two songs that closed the main set were Enjoy The Silence and Never Let Me Down Again, and their performance can be summed by quoting their respective lyrics – words were very unnecessary and they didn’t let me down, at all. The crowd was properly “flying high” – hands were in the air at all times and the hand waving was as scintillating as ever.
What followed was a break for the band, but not for the crowd, which continued on cheering as loud as can be, clapping and hoping for them to return for the encore, which by now had consisted of five songs, which was also the case in Ljubljana.
Martin returned for another one of his piano numbers. Though I was expecting some rotation (and was virtually crossing my fingers for The Things You Said), Martin performed Somebody as on the previous four dates and it didn’t prove to be a mistake. On the contrary, it was another lump in the throat moment for me, but not the final one. The projection was very simple but powerful, a flag with the lettering S O M E B O D Y, which is probably one of the reasons why we shouldn’t really get our hopes up for Martin changing this one any time soon, AQOL is more likely because it isn’t tied to what is shown in the background.
Walking In My Shoes was next up and it was as strong as ever. It’s a slight variation of the Delta performance, but enough to make you enjoy it anew and is coupled with a video that sends out a strong message. The video is done in a similar style as the In Your Room projection, so it’s nice to see Anton visually connected the SOFAD songs in the setlist. As Dave once said, that he could never get tired of performing this song, I think the same stands for the fans – it’s one of their strongest songs in the catalogue and I can never get tired of listening to it. Great lyrics, flow, arrangements, instrumentation, many moments to participate if you’re part of the crowd – it just work great live, as it does on the album.
What came next, was the incredible homage to the late David Bowie, "Heroes". If someone asked me to single out one or two highlights of this gig, it would be this (coupled with Everything Counts for some good no strings attached fun, much preferred to JCGE). The song is performed in front of a simple, yet effective waving black flag projection and it starts with a lovely drum-machine-only beat. Christian then joins the action at some two minutes in, to enhance the ethereal feel and make it breathe just a tad more, which makes the last verse all the more effective, with Dave pouring his heart out. They just nail it and perform it with respect to Bowie’s original, while spicing it up with a bit of that Depeche Mode touch, a sequencer break here, drum machine there and most importantly, Dave’s lovely vocals. Martin even introduces an oh oh ooh at the end. Effortless, but beautiful.
Second to last is I Feel You, which compared to WIMS, sounds like the band going through the motions a bit, though that riff can never let me down. They could play that riff for six minutes instead of performing the actual song and I’d still be pleased, it’s one of those great ones which get in your ear and stay with you forever. Though Dave’s vocals aren’t as powerful as on Devotional, when he had a proper God-like growly voice, he still delivers his lines with vigor but there’s just that special something missing from this performance and it might as well be my least favourite of the whole set (that’s not to say it’s bad, we’re talking about Depeche Mode here).
The set ends on a powerful, compact and shortened version of Personal Jesus (thankfully dropping the drawn out intro of the Delta tour) and it showcased the band in great spirits, with Dave showing almost no signs of his age (he turned 55 five days before this concert). The party piece was, as usual, the extended techno outro of the song, with the crowd jumping like crazy, singing every last word, being particularly mind-blowingly loud during the five sacred words for every DM fan, mentioned in the next sentence.
With REACH OUT AND TOUCH FAITH echoing through the venue, a feeling of sadness started to slowly creep behind the corner, but this time, in comparison to Zagreb four years ago, I already have another ticket in my pocket, so I can go home happy knowing there is at least one more gig waiting for me. Though a shortened setlist awaits us in Lisbon, at the NOS Alive festival on July 8th I can’t help but feel extremely impatient for the gig. I’ll do no relays for HOME, probably won’t be taking any pictures, will just be taking up the atmosphere and enjoy every moment of it. After all, seeing Depeche Mode, on a beautiful beach, at night, what’s not to love? The festival crowd maybe, but who cares. The Slovenian crowd wasn’t that good too, but all is forgiven for the fiery atmosphere in the second half of the show.
So to wrap up (finally, huh?) – this gig, although I preferred the setlist to the Delta tour, felt a bit weird live due to the sound, but looking back on the videos and photos I managed to snap I’m just beginning to realize I witnessed another life-changing event, it’s just that I was a bit star-struck during the concert and tired of the events of the day, that’s all. Carried by the crowd, especially in the second half, the band delivered a great performance in the end, just adding to the sea of great gigs in their longstanding career and - to end on a positive note - I completely agree with Mr. Gore’s opinions about the state of the band in a recent interview (or was it Fletch?). It really is the best time now to be in Depeche Mode, for they’re healthy, going strong, enjoying what they’re doing more than ever due to the sobriety and actually “being there”, whereas the technology is opening up new possibilities that weren’t possible even as close as 5 years back, so they can give back to us fans more with every new record. To be a fan, then? Even better Mart, even better.
Thanks very much Niokla.