A review of his concert at 'Rock Am Ring' (Germany), 7 June 2003
Rock Am Ring is Germany's biggest rock festival, a massive three day rockfest of modern music. Black is the predominant clothes colour at the Nurburgring (yes, the famous Formula 1 venue) and rock here means hard rock and metal. That's why Dave Gahan's on the second stage while Iron Maiden are rocking their wrinkles out up on the main stage, screamed on by probably their most loyal fanbase, a shockingly pimply German following offering some comfort to rockers hard sold in other territories.
Strange indeed Gahan's inclusion here, but how wonderful his reception. The set of the weekend for a good percentage of the attendance, judging by the energy in the pit, I'd describe it as the best show by the best showman at Rock Am Ring. Gahan was touring Europe this summer in his first outing as a frontman, having made his debut as a full-fledged songwriter for the release of the long-in-the-works 'Paper Monsters'.
'Hidden Houses' opens this evening's proceedings, followed by a totally regenerative 'Hold On'. Gahan's rendering and stage-holding charisma seemed to wake the festival up from its late-evening slumber, getting the fans up from the grass and onto their second wind. It got better: 'Dirty Sticky Floors' is a mean, sleazy slow-roller that's followed up with an unequivocal 'A Question Of Time'. Shirtless by now, Gahan morphed into a hip-swaying, lip-pouting, mike-swinging band leader of boundless charisma. Maybe the man's dark demons of the past are truly behind him - we hope so - but maybe it's these demons, bottled inside him, that keep him here, on the edge, proving something or wishing something away. It's only a few years ago after all that Gahan came through a failed suicide attempt to kick a heavy heroin addiction.
'Black And Blue Again' is one of this writer's favourites of the night, a melange of Depeche Mode's edgy urbanity and Gahan's constantly surfacing rock tendencies. It helps that he has a good band behind him: Knox Chandler on guitar and the backing vocals and bass of Martyn Lenoble. Victor Indrizzo is on drums and backing vocals while keyboards, ever-important to a Gahan moment, are left to Vince Jones. Full house lights on, the crescendo of the set came with a delerious take on 'Walking In My Shoes', strung out for all its creepy charms, as if Gahan is proving he's bigger than Depeche Mode. The plaintive pleas of the lyrics seem all the more pertinent when you consider all this fellow's been through - few could wish to step into the shoes of the former Mr Gahan.
It seemed like the former song was a catharsis for the evening because the wrap-up tunes were played with an irresistible revelry. Harmonica mixed with his vocals, Gahan hugged Chandler and Lenoble, and it felt like he'd gladly hug every one out front too if he got out there. 'I Need You' was an appropriate riposte and follow-on to 'Walking In My Shoes'.
The personal destruction wreaked by a hard drugs habit and Gahan's alt rock/grunge sensiblities are two recurring themes in the new material, and in his delivery of Depeche Mode songs. Synth pop wasn't intended to have a soul but Depeche Mode changed that. With Gahan setting the tone, Depeche Mode gave electronic pop music a heart. And his material tonight is nothing if not full-hearted. 'Personal Jesus', 'Never Let Me Down Again' and 'Enjoy The Silence' are three peaks before Gahan's sixteen-song set comes to an end.
Hard to believe it's twenty three years since Gahan joined Depeche Mode as the group's missing puzzle piece, a charismatic, stylish singer. Here's a man who out-Bonoed Bono in his heyday - and does so now again. One wonders why it took until 2003, after 22 years of Depeche Mode, for Gahan to launch his solo career: the man seems contently in his element on this stage, his hollow baritone shorn of the icy spookiness of Depeche Mode days and his outlook on the world hopefully a lot brighter. It ought to be: this singer has a bright future.