18 April 2006

Pain and suffering at Wembley

3rd April, 2006. We get to Wembley Arena early, because we have to get the tickets from the box office and I was paranoid that something would go wrong. After my special moment with an
actual Depeche Mode ticket, I entrust the ticket to Wendy's bosom - the only pocket amongst four people to have a zipper. There's nobody else around yet. The doors open at 18:30. Fiona suggests we go to IKEA to look at el cheapo Swedish furniture. We look at lamp shades and bath mats. I find an ash veneer breakfast table with four bent plywood chairs that I really like and consider the logistical nightmare of getting it back to South Africa. We shop for provisions (read doughnuts) at Tescos and get back to the South Eastern Entrance of Wembley Arena to find a small queue of devout followers already forming. We join it.

Behind me is a Spanish dude and his girlfriend. In front of us are two interesting Goth-ish women. Wendy reads the newspaper over the one girl's shoulder, a full page review of last night's show. Half the page is taken up by a photograph of Dave Gahan. The chick introduces herself as Nicole and her friend as Maddy. When I tell them I've never been to a dM gig before, Nicole says 'Oh, you're in for such a treat. They're the best live act ever.' They show us all their dM concert bracelets which they haven't taken off: one from Birmingham, one from Manchester, one from Rotterdam, a couple of French ones. It just makes me want to live in Europe, where you can go to
amazing events simply as your Friday evening entertainment. In South Africa it's nearly a public holiday if Robbie Williams plays Loftus. We tell Nicole and Maddy that we're from South Africa and they ask us if we're on vacation. We say yes, but that we made this journey specifically to be here at this concert. 'Respect, people!' they tell us. 'Respect! That's real devotion, to travel 12000km for a Depeche Mode gig.' This is how you get invited into the clan.

Across from the queue stands an Italian guy we lovingly dub Raccoon Boy for his heroin chic eye makeup. He is a Dave clone circa 1993, with goatee, white vest and (this is incredible)
exactly the same tattoos as Dave. Hero-worship gone too far, methinks. Karen has a nice time oggling him as he drinks red wine (a cheap brand, Maddy tells us) out of a glass he conjured from nowhere. Later on, Maddy will let him borrow her compact so that he can adjust his eyeshadow.

Scottish Newspaper Woman comes from the front of the queue and chats to Nicole and Maddy. On her newspaper she kindly draws us a diagram of the stage, instructing Nicole and Maddy to keep to the right of the catwalk (they're Fletch fans) and telling us to avoid the left because 'there's absolutely nothing here to see, absolutely nothing going on' (she wants Martin Gore all to herself). Initially I assumed she was Wembley Arena staff, being so knowledgeable. Actually, she's just a very normal-looking, but totally insane groupie. She even has different coloured pens that she carries around, to number the people in the queues at each entrance (she was SE2) so that you could go to the shops or the bathroom and return to find your place in line open for you.

Finally the doors open and the crowd lurches towards the entrance. My ticket gets taken away from me and I'm given a lumo-puke pink bracelet. Wendy, Fiona, Karen and I have a plan to get to the optimal standing position, to the left of the catwalk, just outside of the crush zone. But Wembley staff prevent people from running, so it's a brisk walk to the front of the Arena, about five bodies from the stage. And it's beautiful. Retro-space age, a 1970s movie based on a Jules Verne novella. Intelligent and simple stage design by Anton Corbijn (who we will see after the show, just before running to the merchandising stalls), with a huge silver ball displaying messages and six floating projection screens.

Finally the lights darken and The Bravery come on. An unusual band from New York (possibly chosen by Dave, who lives there) combining guitars and electronics to good effect. They sound a little like The Killers, maybe. The vocalist is terrible though, and ruins a lot of the songs for me, trying to sound like a would-be member of Bloc Party that didn't make the cut. I enjoy looking at the kooky keyboardist, who seems to enjoy the gig more than the others. The Bravery vacate the stage, the lights go back on, and we wait for 21:00. An annoying American woman in a bright pink down-filled jacket turns her lipsticked head to me and asks: 'What is your favourite Britney Spears song?' upon which I respond with an impolite 'Huh?' Apparently this was a good response, to which she replies 'Ah, yeah! Don't you just love
this kind of music?' So it was a test to make sure none of the bubblegum crowd had infiltrated this dark gathering. Apart from Fiona (who doesn't know any of the new songs) she is the only creature wearing pink to a Depeche Mode concert, possibly in all of history.

The lights darken and the band appear, without much pomp or, indeed, circumstance. They start to play, and it's the most perfect set, tailor-made almost, playing everything I wanted them to, with so much energy and emotion, with a sense of humour and so much joy. And all my worrying and anxiety dissipates. Never has pain and suffering been this glorious.

The set list:
  • A Pain That I'm Used To
  • John The Revelator
  • A Question Of Time
  • Policy Of Truth
  • Precious
  • Walking In My Shoes
  • Suffer Well
  • Macro
  • Home
  • I Want It All
  • The Sinner In Me
  • I Feel You
  • Behind The Wheel
  • World In My Eyes
  • Personal Jesus
  • Enjoy The Silence
  • Shake The Disease
  • Just Can't Get Enough
  • Everything Counts
  • Never Let Me Down Again
  • Goodnight Lovers
And there's nothing much to tell you, really, because I feel like I'm watching a DVD, because I'm that close, there's a sea of tiny girls in front of me and I can see everything so clearly, from the drummer's feet to Martin's hand sliding over that fabled green guitar, to Dave jumping around, flashing the crowd that wolfish grin, to Fletch clapping his hands behind his keyboard instead of playing it, the sound is that good, the crowd is that alive; and, at the end, when I'm waving my hands to Never Let Me Down Again as countless people have done at Depeche Mode concerts past, I finally am that person.


kitty said...

Awww, I'm so happy for you! I want that feeling!

Karen Little said...

how did you remember the entire set list?

i love this story - every time you tell it! i'll read the rest of your posts on sunday - have to go study about crazy people now. bye! xoxoxox

Tammy said...

Wow talk about a blast from the past - Ihad no idea that depeche mode was even still around, then again with kids choosing my playlist in the car these days I am more apt to sing verses from High School musical then people are peole.............

Unknown said...

This comes of being the biggest cult band in the world, I suppose. The boys from Basildon are ubiquitous yet anonymous - famous people who are never recognised in the street. It amazes me that people think they're an 80's band. They've released two whole albums in this century alone!

Oh, well. I blame the radio stations.