Depeche Mode never let you down, not even on a rainy night in Leeds. Their first ever performance at the city’s new arena and you get the sense that it’s nights like this that the place was built for. The landscape (rather than portrait) layout means you’re close to the action even in the cheap seats, and for a band of the Mode’s stature, filling the auditorium is a walk in the park.
They start with the electro-blues of new album opener ‘Welcome To My World’ and the sludgy apocalyptic gospel of its album counterpart, ‘Angel’. In fact, the show is heavy with new work, as well it might be given they’re producing their best material for twenty years.
The first ‘classic’ of the set, ‘Walking In My Shoes’, is unimpeachably magnificent, singer Dave Gahan straining every sinew as the song reaches its synth-orchestral climax. Gahan grows more like some demented satanic preacherman with every new line that age etches across his face. When he pole dances up and down his mic stand and leers maniacally at the audience, it’s like you’ve entered hell’s own male strip club. Unbelievably, he’s also weathered much better than his audience – no mean feat for a man who has technically died at least once.
Age has done wonders for his vocals too. On ‘Should Be Higher’, he reveals a winsome new fragility to his voice: “Your lies are more attractive than the truth…[Voice begins to waver]… Love is all I want!”. Fellow new single ‘Heaven’ is equally sublime; its place amongst the band’s balladic masterpieces is assured (if you can get the echoes of Elvis Costello’s ‘Shipbuilding’ out of your head). The only negative about its inclusion tonight is that it forced the similarly hymnal ‘Condemnation’ off the set-list.
As is customary with the Mode, we’re treated to superb visual backdrops, almost short films in their own right. There’s a Charlotte Gainsbourg lookalike in a fur coat wandering enigmatically around empty landscapes with the Halo of the song’s title above her head. There’s the band themselves playing at being woodsmen, chainsawing through tree trunks and lugging around weird shapes. We also get masked youths hurling firecrackers, semi-naked female contortionists and, most bizarrely, a series of Crufts-meets-The-Usual-Suspects canine mugshots.
We also get the obligatory Martin Gore interlude, but unlike, say, the Stones letting Keith Richards have a crack at the mic, it actually adds to the set, most notably the stripped back piano arrangement of ‘Shake The Disease’ which starts the encore.
Mid-period anthem ‘Enjoy The Silence’ is naturally the show’s highlight. Agelessly majestic, it still has the power to send the crowd into quasi-religious ecstasy – 10,000 souls flinging their hands from side to side as if this tattooed, drug-wrecked fifty something heralded the second coming. It needs something with the weight of ‘Personal Jesus’ to follow it. Gore cranks this one out as a snail’s pace bar-room croonathon, until it picks up its regular tempo and the now bare-torsoed Gahan starts exhorting the crowd to “reach out and touch faith”.
While those two close the main set, they’ve got another stonking duo up their sleeves to close the encore. Gahan shreds his vocal cords so thoroughly during ‘I Feel You’, you think the show’s over. Not a bit of it. A few swigs of water and he’s back at it for ‘Never Let Me Down Again’.
It’s an impeccable performance, and for once, it also seems like the band are really enjoying it. Gahan and Gore exchange matey smiles throughout and when the crowd take up the singing during the incongruous gay disco of Just Can’t Get Enough, Gahan even turns and has a chuckle with his bandmates. They’re now in their fourth decade as a band and at least three people – me, the fella next to me who mimicked every one of Gahan’s messianic hand gestures, and the Manc bloke I met at the train station who had first seen them in 1979 – all agree they are better than ever. They are simply the most consistently impressive arena rock act Britain has ever produced.