Thursday 25 January 2024



On the last tour, Shaun Coward a.k.a @PollicyOfTruth on Twitter's (not X, never X), review of the Birmingham gig was one a Global Spirit Tour Project highlight. Five years on, he's older, certainly no wiser but, happily for all of us, just as keen to give us his thoughts on the Depeche Mode live experience. This is a great read. Thanks Shaun. All pictures are courtesy of Depeche Mode Classic Photos & Videos Facebook Group. If they are yours, let me know and I'll credit you quite happily.

It’s no fun getting older, is it? There were several moments last night when I was reminded of 15-year-old me, happy but shivering with my closest friends in the December snow outside the nearby NEC, prior to the final date on the World Violation Tour. There was no conversation about whether we would do that, no decision to be made. You are 15. You have a standing ticket to see Depeche Mode. You will therefore get to the venue as early as you can and wait for as long as it takes. If it snows, it snows. When the doors open and you are in the arena, you will run. You will be slowed down by a line of security. Then you will really run, until the point where you meet a solid line of bodies and you stop, claiming your space and becoming part of the crowd. 

Then you wait. And then, after paying your dues, you get your reward. 

Naturally that changed as I got older. Being as close as possible to the front became less important, the company of friends took on greater meaning. Or to put it another way, we became big fans of spending all afternoon on the piss and turning up for the concert about ten minutes before the start. But tonight was like going back in time, a bit. Because tonight is no place for beery larks. This evening needs a hero. It needs: Responsible Dad. And some Voltarol if you’ve got any. 

My daughter is 17. This isn’t her first Depeche Mode concert, my wife and I took her to the NEC for the Delta Machine show when she was 7. In truth she was probably a bit too young. Fatigue began to set in, and by the encores she was fading fast. But my reasoning for taking her then was that she might do that annoying thing children do when they start growing up into teenagers: having their own opinions about music. And whilst she definitely does have those, I needn’t have worried about her going off Depeche Mode. So here we are, back in Birmingham and back in the pub for a pre-gig drink with a difference: I’m on the Coke. (Not even proper Coke, I’m drinking Coke Zero. What have I become?)

Aware that the doors open at 6pm and also that The Girl would like a good spot, at 5.30 I finally acquiesce to her gentle requests that we shift our arses. We leave the Malt House and cross the canal, and at this point I’m still envisaging it taking no time at all for us to get in, and am silently grumbling to myself about us being too early. I am, as you can see, seriously out of practice at this ‘getting a good spot’ lark. We arrive at Gate C to find that several hundred other people have already decided that getting in the queue would be a good idea. I feel a bit stupid. But we join up, and it only takes just over 30 minutes to get in once the doors have opened. We’re in, and my plan at this point is just to get onto the floor, let The Girl check it out then go for a mooch. But then we walk through to be greeted by… space. There is the stage. No space at any of the barriers obviously but we are able to casually walk up to within a few feet of the end of the catwalk. It’s not even 7pm and I realise that this is it: we’re not moving from here. This is too good a spot to lose. I have been this close to Depeche Mode before but not for many years, and who knows if it’ll happen again. 

We will need water, so I race off to get some. I’m not risking another toilet trip so just have to hope that my bladder plays ball (so to speak). And so we wait. At first I’m slightly concerned at what sort of physical state I’m going to be in by the time the show starts, but we get chatting to some other fans and the time passes quickly enough. (I would like to apologise to the softly spoken lady in front of me, whose story I was only able to hear snippets of. The Girl later fills me in: her first DM gig was at Kent University in 1982, she was back stage afterwards and managed to get Fletch’s tie, which she is wearing! I missed at least two crucial details to this tale, resulting in my reaction being a lot less “NO WAY THAT’S AMAZING!” than it should’ve been.)

It’s soon time for Nadine Shah. I would probably file this away under ‘not really my thing’ but she is an impressive performer and gets a good reception from the audience, definitely not a given with a Depeche Mode crowd! Her set is a short one, and pretty soon she’s off, replaced by Martin’s faultless pre-gig soundtrack. It’s at this point I notice that the temperature has risen pretty sharply. I love a hot sweaty gig (madam) so it’s no problem for me. But shout out to the gentleman on my left who must surely have been cursing his decision to wear an Arran sweater, and not just for sartorial reasons. 

Much talk of artists such as Madonna taking to the stage late in the papers recently. Depeche Mode are the very definition of professionalism and punctuality. You get the distinct impression that they’d rather be back at the hotel before midnight than fanny around starting the show, and so at 8.45, it’s time for business. 

Of course, there are no changes in the early part of the set. My Cosmos Is Mine is heavy and just the right kind of dirty, it feels perfectly suited to the heat and anticipation of the audience. Wagging Tongue up next, and you know how it goes. It’s great, and clearly the number of people singing along indicates that the Swarm has taken the song to its heart (which is probably made of coal or something). But let’s be honest, at least half the venue knows what’s coming next and by Christ they are ready for it. Walking In My Shoes is as thunderous as ever and this concert has gone from first gear to light speed in the blink of an eye. Martin’s guitar soars over our heads (not literally, although his impressive shoulder muscles indicate he could probably clear at least the first few rows with it). 

We’re in the thick of it now. The Girl is jumping, the whole place (okay, the bit where I was standing) is lost in a mixture of love and HOW FUCKING GOOD IS IT TO HEAR THIS BAND PLAY THESE SONGS. The run of tracks from It’s No Good to Precious is faultless, although I’ll always prefer the album version of In Your Room. Policy Of Truth sounds better to my ear than it has in years and years. Everything Counts prompts the obligatory singalong, which Dave claims was “WAY better than London” (and yes, I’m sure he says that to all the girls). 

Precious hits hard. I’ve never been a huge fan of it as a live track, it sits with Barrel Of A Gun and a few others that don’t really work for me. I’m not sure I could put my finger on what was different with it last night but it was immense, a real highlight. 

I’m very happy that they play Speak To Me. Dave’s performance is full of emotion and the lines, “I will disappoint you, I will let you down” have me choking back a few tears. Dave’s all round vocal and physical performance tonight is out-of-this-world good. There just doesn’t seem to be any drop off at all, it’s still there. The voice, the spins, the moves, the hips. What the fuck else are you going to do, Dave? Play golf? Bollocks to retirement, you’re in this for life. And so as the closing strains of Speak To Me fill the arena, he buggers off round the back for a cup of tea and a fag.

The Martin acoustic bit, then. I have mixed feelings about this, I always have. Tonight we are treated to Strangelove and Heaven, and despite Strangelove being my favourite song of the two by a very long way, it is Heaven that provides the more arresting performance. I would still have preferred A Question Of Lust to either of them, and that’s not even mentioning Home. But it’s great to be so close to Martin at the end of that catwalk, and both me and The Girl are having the time of our lives. 

Dave’s back for a bit of I Feel You. I may be misremembering but it seemed like he missed his cue on this one. I Feel You is another song I could live without and I felt tonight, as I often have, that it lacked a bit of energy. Which is an odd thing to say about a song that should be full of it, but there we are. There wasn’t anything wrong with it per se, it just sounded a bit flat. A Pain That I’m Used To is fine - not a favourite of mine but those I’m around in the audience are certainly into it. 

They’re revving up for the first big finish now, and it’s proper ‘don’t move or you’ll miss something brilliant’ territory. World In My Eyes, Black Celebration, Stripped, John The Revelator and Enjoy The Silence. What a run of songs that is. They don’t let up, it’s like getting punched in the face by brilliance over and over again. This version of Black Celebration seems to have garnered mixed opinions: I think it is INCREDIBLE. The lighting, the arrangement, it’s just perfect. The only thing that could improve it would be getting Dave back into those leather trousers. C’mon Dave. I bet they still fit. If Madonna can manage four costume changes during a gig, surely you can change your strides.

Stripped is an absurdly good song, a monster of a track that always sounds as if it could fill a venue twice the size of wherever it’s being played - because it could. If I was going to nitpick I’d say that the mix on this version isn’t the best, some parts seemed to get a little bit lost. But that could be down to the sound in the Utilita Arena, which isn’t great. (Although markedly better than it was when I saw them here in 2017.) But really, when you’re lost in the swirl of such an iconic Depeche Mode moment, minor criticisms like that seem churlish and, well, a bit daft. It’s not really the point, the point is how you feel. And aside from the back ache and sore feet, I’m feeling pretty fucking euphoric. So where do you go from there? Enjoy The Silence, of course. This part of the show is like being on a rollercoaster, but every time you drop down a huge, thrilling descent, it turns out there’s another, bigger one just around the corner. 

Enjoy The Silence does its job. And that job is to rip out my insides, throw them into a cocktail shaker, fill my head with endorphins and my eyes with tears, before depositing the whole heaving, crying, sweaty mess back onto a concrete floor in Birmingham. This is the end of the main part of the concert and again I’m thinking about that last night on the World Violation Tour, about how I was so full of adrenaline at the end of that concert and here I am, more than 33 years later, feeling like that kid again. It’s powerful stuff, this music. 

The encore we all know is coming kicks off with Waiting For The Night. As the chaps are just a couple of metres away and directly in front of us, I have to suppress my instinct to film the whole thing and I’m glad I didn’t. I definitely don’t have a photographic memory but I will remember how that made me feel for a very long time. 

I’ve long been an advocate for dropping Just Can’t Get Enough from the set, and yet… Naturally I am disgracing myself with some decidedly ‘dad’ moves and a grin that suggests I’ve taken enough MDMA to kill a horse. Never Let Me Down Again doesn’t suffer from being ousted from its CORRECT spot as concert-ender by Personal Jesus. Both songs are peak Depeche Mode, the crowd plays its part and more besides. In moments like this it’s like time stands still. How privileged we are to be a part of this thing. And I mean everyone, the band, the audience, anyone in the vicinity with a passing interest in music and an appreciation of what it is to be happy. There is a lot to worry about in this world, but nights like tonight take that worry away, even if only for a while. They leave us a bit lighter, a bit happier, a bit more ready to face the next day.

Depeche Mode have not always been a band that appeared to be enjoying themselves on stage, as we all know. Even if you watch some of their most pivotal performances from their past, there is not always the sense that they themselves were having a good time. The love and enjoyment positively flows off the stage now, it hits you in waves. It’s been like this for a while, admittedly. They found their way; whatever it was they had to do to get to this point, they did it. Maybe they had to work at it. Maybe it just happened naturally over time. Either way, in these moments of FEELING THE LOVE it is of course impossible not to think of Fletch. There were so many points last night where I thought “he’d have bloody loved this”, and you know he would. Peter and Christian are excellent foils to Martin and Dave and great musicians in their own right, but there is an Andy-shaped hole in this band and there always will be. 

But being pummelled into a heap by the sheer love and euphoria will do for now. It’s been an unforgettable night, and despite how completely exhausted I am by the end, I wouldn’t change anything about it. 

As the lights come up and we slowly file out of a now boiling Utilita Arena, I think about these two sexagenarians holding an arena audience in the palm of their hands and having the time of their lives doing it. Maybe it IS fun getting older.


Thank you Shaun


  1. What a well written and engaging review! And it took me back to so many of my similar emotions seeing our dearly-loved band.

  2. Fantastic review, thank you. Sadly I didn't go last night, first time I haven't seen them perform in Brum since Construction Time again and the Oxford road show gig at the Odeon, but son and I my saw them at Twickenham last year and that was great, but not the same as seeing them' at home'.

  3. Unbelievably well written! I was right there with you the whole time and basking on my own precious memories. You are an incredible writer! Thank you for taking the time and sharing your experience with us 🥰

  4. I was there to, and I agree with the most part … the played 2 of my favourite songs… precious, stripped … black celebration was emended and John the Revelatory as well … I think cosmos is mine is a seeker intro.. but hey that’s me … till the next time … louder than London

  5. Couldn’t have put it better myself 🖤

  6. I love this review and felt all the emotions you described. It felt like a really special night last night, the band were incredible but the fans played their part too and I'm so grateful to have been part of the experience.

  7. Heartfelt thanks to everyone for your lovely comments. What a night. I feel privileged to have been a part of it.

  8. A fantastic and honest review !

  9. Fantastic! From one Shaun to another…thumbs up! 👍🏽

  10. Great review, captured the feeling in the arena perfectly, band & audience really seemed as one. Totally agree about Dave & Martin's voices - they have never sounded better. Was a bit worried when Dave left the stage on his own at the end only to be dragged back by the others, but it was clear he was absolutely exhausted, definitely didn't leave anything in the dressing room this time, incredible gig!

  11. I never comment or reply on anything online - this is literally my first time ever. But I'm doing so as that was the most beautiful concert review I've ever read. I was at the show on Wednesday and had with me my 20 year old daughter and 16 year old son. Both wearing their DM tee shirts bought at Twickenham last summer. I have bored them senseless, since the show, with how privileged we were to be at the concert. It was my 27th Mode concert and it was far and away the best one I've been to in the UK. The crowd and atmosphere was just immense. And the show matched, of course. It was utterly sensational. And your review is likewise.

    1. That's very kind, thank you! So glad you enjoyed the concert and very happy that you enjoyed my thoughts.

  12. Brilliant read. And so well put into words.

  13. Loved every second of this review - well written and it put me right in that arena! (I saw them in Chicago with both of my kids - what a thing to share with them, absolutely incredible.)