Thursday 9 December 2021



picture (c) Kevin May

For the first time since the second last gig of the last Depeche tour we have a guest blogger today. Kevin May is the co-author of Halo, the forthcoming book he and I are writing about Depeche Mode's Violator, co-host of the wonderful Metapod podcast and much much more. He also wrote the review of that second last Depeche gig so it's lovely to have him back again. Thanks Kevin

picture (c) Kevin May

Get your kicks on Route 66”… Or get your fix of Dave Gahan wherever and whenever you can.

This does seem to be the order of the evening, somewhat, with an almost full London Coliseum waiting (unless they went to the warm-up gig two nights before at Westminster Central Hall) for almost three-and-a-half years for a glimpse of the Depeche Mode frontman.

He’s back with his Soulsavers chums - well, collaborator Rich Machin and a squad of extremely talented live musicians - and an album of cover versions of artists ranging from Neil Young and PJ Harvey to Bob Dylan and, err, Eartha Kitt.

Gahan, of course, is not a complete stranger to cover versions, having recently reworked the classic Nothing Else Matters Metallica just prior to the release of the new Imposter album with Soulsavers.

With Depeche Mode, there is also the aforementioned Route 66 and, perhaps most notably, a rendition of David Bowie’s 'Heroes', which became a regular encore track during the Global Spirit Tour in 2017-2018 and has obviously historic significance to the foundation of the band in 1980.

So, here we are, gathered at a beautiful, 117-year-old Central London theatre (lots to look at pre-show, infinitely more interesting than another soulless arena, let’s be honest) and there’s the usual excitement and trepidation that surrounds such events when a band member is making his first appearance in a long time.

There is some Depeche royalty in attendance, with tour keyboarder Peter Gordeno sitting in one of the plush boxes, plus Gahan’s wife Jennifer and brother Phil in the Dress Circle.

A nice and unexpected touch on arrival is the programme given out (GULP - for free!!) to attendees, embossed with the same logo that appears on the curtain covering the stage just before the main act of the night begins.

Inside is a list of the songs that Gahan and Soulsavers covered in the album and will be performing, with some notes about why each was selected for the Imposter cover album. It’s a nice souvenir and a pointer as to how the evening is being positioned: a performance rather than a gig, with a nod to the often intimate feel that a theatre show can give the audience.

It’s worth mentioning that there are no accolades or any social media glory from pointing out how much you dislike Soulsavers and Gahan’s association with it now for almost 10 years - something that is rather irksome given that this is simply a performer who enjoys creating being involved in other things away from the day job… if we can call it that.

Creativity, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, yet it sometimes feels as if fans want to punish him for filling the downtime between Depeche periods by not giving his extra-curricular work a chance to breathe and be enjoyed.

Rant over…

The work itself is exquisite. These are extremely talented musicians and backing singers who saunter onstage alongside Gahan with no obvious fanfare or lengthy intro music. It really is all about the performance, even if there are the inevitable whoops and screams during some of the more recognisable - yet, toned-down - moves by Gahan as he sings.

This is not a night for dancing in the audience either, at least not initially.

picture (c) Kevin May

The Dark End Of The Street (originally performed by Dan Penn) is a solid opener, teeing up what the rhythm and pace of the evening are going to be - slow, intricate, intimate and featuring performances that will have certainly impressed the actual musicians in attendance.

The first standout song of the night is Lilac Wine, the Kitt cover, with Martyn Lenoble on upright bass and Gahan going up and down the vocal range with ease. “Listen to me, why is everything so haaaaaaazy…” - it’s a near-perfect rendition from all involved.

Cat Power’s Metal Heart is perhaps the most Soulsavers-esque song in the collection, with it sounding like a fusion of a number of tracks from the previous Angels & Ghosts album. But this is no bad thing, as these songs - as have other songs in the catalogue that have been performed live over the years - come alive when performed onstage.

Another highlight is PJ Harvey’s The Desperate Kingdom Of Love, one of a number of songs from the album that ordinarily might leave folk scratching their heads as to why they were selected. But when showcased by a live band, in a setting that warrants such detailed and excellent musicianship, they become something else.

There has clearly been a lot of thought that has gone into both the selection of songs for the album and the live performance of them on this mini-tour.

Shut Me Down (Rowland Howard), Smile (Nat King Cole) and even Not Dark Yet (Bob Dylan) are so well done that you might be forgiven for forgetting their original interpretations. The fingerprints of Gahan and Machin are over everything, but those who recognise will acknowledge that they still contain some elements of the source material.

It’s cleverly done.

The closer is Always On My Mind, covered by all manner of artists over the years, including Elvis Presley and Gwen McCrae.

While it would obviously be fairly amusing to hear Gahan belt out the Pet Shop Boys disco-pop version from 1987, we get the standard ballad, with a vocal performance that once shows the astonishing strength of a voice that has taken a beating over the years.

The encore inevitably gives the devotees something to really cheer about, as a rocky interpretation of Personal Jesus brings the theatre to its feet for a nostalgic stomp. It’s not quite the Waldb├╝hne in Berlin (the last time many of the attendees will have seen Gahan on a stage), but it’s a great moment.

Shine (along with All Of This And Nothing, arguably the best tracks from the previous album) gets a full-on, gospel-style outing ahead of probably the oddest song of the evening: a cover of John The Revelator from Depeche Mode’s 2005 album Playing The Angel.

It’s not a crowd-pleaser like Personal Jesus but is once again enough to get people out of their comfy seats for a little dance and waving of the arms. Some might question why a song that has split the Depeche audience over years made it the setlist but, again, tonight’s show is not about banging out old classics (Personal Jesus notwithstanding) but illustrating what a terrific group of performers can do.

Take Me Back Home, another Soulsavers track from the back catalogue in 2012, gives Gahan the chance for some Depeche-style back-and-forth with the audience - and then it’s all over.

Gahan, inevitably, is the last to leave the stage after the obligatory full band bow - clearly lapping up what appears to be genuine and, by then, rowdy appreciation from those in the theatre for an extremely accomplished, note-perfect performance from him and the musicians.

He has a lot to be proud of with the Imposter album and, especially, with this small run of shows with the band.

It’s often easy to forget - when fans hear many of the same songs in the Depeche catalogue tour after tour - that Gahan is a wonderfully talented vocalist and, when applied to compositions that test his range and style, he can legitimately stand alongside some of the best singers of his generation.

Marry all that to his ability to act and do the frontman thing - for want of a better description - and you get a character who clearly knows he’s good at what he does and genuinely loves doing it for an audience.

The Soulsavers sojourns are good for Dave Gahan - giving him the freedom to express himself in different and challenging ways. He should be forgiven for that by the hardcore Depeche masses and appreciated by everyone for that desire to test himself and enjoy himself at the same time as producing some stellar performances on stage.

Plus, as well all know, a period with Machin and friends often proceeds a return to The World Of Depeche Mode.

There is no indication at all that this latest bout of rock and gospel action with Soulsavers will lead to a similar pathway for Gahan - but if these performances and the reception to the album give him some encouragement to team up with Martin Gore and Andy Fletcher once again in the future, then we should all be grateful.

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