For years, Isle Of Wight Festival organiser John Giddings has namechecked Depeche Mode as one of his dream bookings. That’s partially down to scarcity value: Depeche Mode just don’t play British festivals. They’ve never done Glastonbury or Reading And Leeds.
So finally landing the trio a year into the campaign for their acclaimed album ‘Spirit’ is a genuine coup. But the inevitable consequence of never playing British festivals is that Depeche Mode don’t quite know how to work a festival crowd. That sounds daft given both their experience and Dave Gahan’s ability as a frontman. But one look at the setlist is likely to make even diehard fans wince. Yes, shows should crescendo upwards to an explosive finale. It’s not as if there weren’t plenty of classics in there. But fans had to wait so long for them that a fair few potential converts had wandered off by the time an epic ‘Everything Counts’ transformed the mood halfway in.
Gahan announced “It’s been a long day, but now you get to see the best,” which may have been news to any parka monkeys who’d just been treated to an hour of Oasis standards by Liam Gallagher and were now scratching their heads at moody tales of existential despair. At least the low point came early when, two songs in, Gahan twice turned the mic to the crowd for them to finish singing the chorus of 1997’s anti-love song ‘It’s No Good’, only to be met with a baffled silence.
With his leather vest and pencil moustache, Gahan resembled a disposable pimp in a Guy Ritchie film, while chief songwriter Martin Gore wore a faintly horrified look for the show’s first half, seemingly only just realising that he’d be seeing Sausage Haus and Chicken Box on the horizon for the night.
There was absolutely nothing wrong with songs as atmospheric as ‘Precious’. But they needed just one of the hits from the second half brought forward to remind the crowd that Depeche Mode are as skilled with insistent synthpop as they are at unsettling drama.
Once ‘Everything Counts’ was played, however, the second half was an unalloyed joy. The crowd were so relieved to have a huge hit to sing, they did so unaccompanied half a dozen times when Gahan finally got a response to his mic-turning. After a deafening ‘Personal Jesus’, Gahan snarkily yelled “Well, wakey wakey!”
In the encore, the crowd were even treated to ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’, the sugar-rush pop that made Mode’s name. Until recently, their attitude to the wedding disco staple made Radiohead’s relationship to ‘Creep’ look soppy. But here it was, actually extended to let the festival become a proper sea of dad dancing.
There was a brilliant show in here, with Gahan’s pirouetting as compelling as ever. It just needed a more experienced festival setlist compiler to make it flourish. Glastonbury 2019 could do much, much worse.
Depeche Mode’s setlist was:
It’s No Good
A Pain That I’m Used To
Policy Of Truth
World In My Eyes
The Things You Said
In Your Room
Never Let Me Down Again
Walking In My Shoes
Just Can’t Get Enough
Enjoy The Silence