As their European tour winds down, our Prague correspondent Lucia Udvardyova reports from an especially memorable occasion. All photos by Markus Nass.
Most of the events I’ve been going to in the last few years have had 100 people tops attending. In the age of diminishing audiences, a sold-out stadium comprising of 35,000 people chanting, singing, screaming and engaging in a interpersonal frenzy all for one band, is something that I haven’t and probably won’t ever see again. The sweltering Tuesday night in a football stadium in Prague welcomed the Essex band with open arms. No wonder, since Depeche Mode fans in former Czechoslovakia and Eastern Europe count among the most enthusiastic. I remember listening to Black Celebration as a child in my dad’s car during the ’80s, my black-clad cousin and everybody else doing the same. You were either a long-haired “metal-head” or a “DM head” back then, nothing in-between. The numerous DM revival posters that you still get to see around the city only reinforces the immortality of the band’s appeal.
Prague is a strong and faithful host of Depeche Mode, and tonight’s gig, supported by CHVRCHES, coincides with a rather special occasion, Martin Gore’s 52nd birthday. The moment Gore, the suave songwriter, vocalist and guitarist, delves into his melancholic, romantic delivery— his eyes closed, embracing the moment of sonic crowd communion—hundreds of white signs emblazoned with birthday wishes rise up in the air. As the obligatory “Happy Birthday” is sung— Gore is visibly moved—Dave Gahan swiftly runs from the side of the stage and surprises him with a birthday kiss.
This year has seen the release of DM’s 13th album Delta Machine, which is incorporated into the first half of their show. Obviously, most of the people here are here for live—often amended— renditions of “Personal Jesus” or “Enjoy the Silence”, and as one of the most popular bands of the last 30 years, they probably will have to get used to playing the songs of the yesteryear to a sea of incredibly devoted, ecstatic fans. When the old hits get to the fore, the day’s light turns into a dimly-lit evening, and a full moon rises above the walls of the sports amphitheatre. The swirling hands and bodies caressed by colorful lighting conjure an almost psychedelic optical effect.
The svelte Gahan, now in his 50s, is in top form, teasing the audience, jumping, twisting and turning. The baritone vocalist is smooth and natural, like a lion on his turf, commanding the stage as if he was born on it. Watching the quirky, self-conscious performance of “New Life” from 1983, Gahan dressed in a suit like a smart bank clerk, the transformation into a tattooed swarthy frontman of a group that can easily sell out stadiums with music that’s neither saccharine pop or rock, is one of the pop-cultural phenomenons of 20-21st century music. The electronics give way to live instrumentation, sometimes even venturing into blues rock territory.
As the evening draws to a close, I wonder how will they bid farewell, how to bring the town-sized crowd to an apex and let them go. After two and a half hours, it is not Delta Machine‘s “Goodbye” but the classic “Never Let Me Down Again” from Music for the Masses, the final song and the mass of people leave the temporary musical habitat. “Dressed in Black”, it’s been a “Pleasure, Little Treasure”.~