Tour of the Universe, Barcelona, 20/21/11/09
published: 4 /
Richard Lewis enjoys Depeche Mode's new concert film which was filmed at a stadium gig during their 2009 'Sounds of the Universe' tour
Despite Depeche Mode’s huge success over the past four decades, the band have always mildly felt like a cult proposition. One that sells millions of records mind, as the success of their most recent album 'Sounds of the Universe' demonstrated. Finally shaking off the received wisdom that the band simply weren’t as good after the departure of multi-instrumentalist/programmer Alan Wilder in 1995, recent albums and their subsequent world tours have seen an upswing in their fortunes.
A huge draw in the live arena, 'Tour of the Universe', their umpteenth concert release finds the trio playing to a rapturous Spanish audience, the majority of the set drawn from the album its title is cribbed from. The tour wasinterrupted by Gahan being stricken down with gastroenteritis. On this evidence the singer’s recovery has been remarkable as he struts and pirouettes round the stage. A handsomely packaged DVD, boasting the entire concert split across an additional two CDs, the deluxe edition contains a plethora of extras on an extra disc.
Recorded across two nights in the vast Palau Sant Jordi, Barcelona, the beginning of the gig reproduces the opening three tracks on the current LP. Slightly inconsequential opener ‘In Chains’ aside, ‘Hole to Feed’ and first single ‘Wrong’ are solid if unremarkable entries into the Mode canon. Whilst many stadium acts tend to opt for shock and awe tactics to announce their arrival onstage, the ‘Mode simply wander on and start playing.
If the first three tracks are merely well-received, ‘Walking in My Shoes’ from 1993’s under-rated rock experiment, 'Songs of Faith and Devotion', truly ignites the audience. Coupled with a pulsating ‘It’s No Good’ played next, the two tracks almost improve on the studio versions. Backed by a screen with animations and various images some pertinent, some random flickering across it designed by longtime visual collaborator Anton Cobijn, the stage set continues the band’s preference for the minimal.
‘A Question of Time’ re-tooled from the industrial synth-pop of the original into something approaching snotty garage rock gives Gahan chance to unleash his inner Iggy Pop and Martin Gore opportunity to throw some guitar shapes. ‘I Feel You’ meanwhile, an absolute beast on record sounds far tamer here, the group seemingly unable to re-create its sky-scraping passion live.
‘Enjoy the Silence’, still arguably the group’s greatest moment is also mildly disappointing, featuring an extended mid-section which wanders off into funk-guitar excursions, largely dispensing with the verses. ‘Personal Jesus’ similarly suffers the same fate, the band understandably wanting to remould the song after twenty years of playing it live, yet it loses something in its new incarnation.
Elsewhere, ‘Never Let Me Down Again’ is virtually identical to the original, as is a storming rendition of ‘Stripped’. Vastly more sinister than pantomime German metallers Rammstein’s cover version, this in turn leads into a perfectly fine ‘Behind the Wheel’ from fan favourite LP ‘Black Celebration’.
Concluding with a slightly incongruous ‘Waiting For the Night’, performed solely by Gahan and Gore, the track’s delicate nature feels out of place after the religious thunder of ‘Personal Jesus’. A brave choice to conclude the set with for certain, proving that the group can handle tender ballads as well as the Teutonic stomp of their best known songs, it ends proceedings on an unresolved note, a pity for a largely excellent gig.