Depeche Mode live at Primavera Sound: an emotional tribute to Andy Fletcher, then one hell of an encore

Basildon's finest are on imperious form

It’s the kind of night that makes the night before feel inconsequential. The crowd that’s gathered for Depeche Mode, stretching legions across Primavera’s main two stages, is enough to make Thursday night headliners Blur look like a comparatively up-and-coming band. For this sea of black shirts, certainly – more adorned with the double M of the band’s 15th studio album Memento Mori than not – there’s a collective awestruck glaze over every face, jostling with enough kinetic energy to power the whole of Catalonia. As Dave Gahan swans into view through the strobing yellow stage light, to the stirring industrial build of ‘My Cosmos Is Mine’, you’d be forgiven for thinking the crowd has never seen another human before.

Across an uncharacteristically pared-back two hours, Gahan’s showmanship extends only to wielding the microphone stand like a battle axe, the sheen of his black velvet jacket and white ballroom shoes mimicking the perfect circus master, teasing the occasional pirouette like a tired praying mantis. He gazelles to the front row for ‘Everything Counts’, barely singing a word himself over the track, becoming a full caricature of himself. It’s a career-spanning setlist in the hours that follow, with only a few notable omissions – ‘Wrong’, ‘A Question of Lust’, ‘Barrel of a Gun’ (it’s impossible to please everyone, each wanting their own B-side and remix). 

The undisputed highlight comes crushingly with ‘World In My Eyes’, as a black and white mural of co-founder and keyboardist Andy Fletcher floods the stage. Each bandmate does a more than cursory look around to his image – checking in with him as they play. Gahan seductively weaves and hip-flicks in his direction, shouts off-mic between lines, crafts Fletch’s specs with hand gestures; Martin Gore looks on the verge of tears. It’s a performance about carrying on. This is Depeche Mode’s first tour without him since their foundation in 1980, following his unexpected death last summer. Understandably, his is a loss not fully accounted for; the previous ‘A Pain That I’m Used To’ loses its efficacy in a jumble of hair metal and performative rock music, discarded garments floating around the stage like leathery potpourri, a notable absence among them.

The night quietens out until the encore – fans discontent at the passive spectators waiting for the hits (and passive spectators discontent, waiting for the hits). But when the triple punch comes – ‘Enjoy the Silence’, ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’, ‘Personal Jesus’ – the band and crowd are revitalised. Is that someone in the crowd wearing a Saturdays t-shirt? Unintentional echoes continue through the rest of the night – from the angel wings of Memento Mori that Christine & the Queens wears in the second half of their Redcar recital, to the hissing electronics that drown Yves Tumor’s vocal on the amphitheatre (“Yo, Jesse! That’s what I’ve been saying! Turn that shit up!”) Retrospectively, these echoes feel more vital than any part of Depeche Mode’s headline set, but isn’t everyone the better for seeing it.