Dave Gahan & Soulsavers

Shepherd's Bush Empire, London - 26 October 2015

"A rich, velvety, mature voice"

Fascinating to think that I saw Dave Gahan here at Shepherd's Bush Empire doing his solo thing in 2003. I couldn't believe it was that long ago. I had to check this very website to be sure. Twelve years. A reasonable amount of time is anyone's life. Probably a load more for a rock star. And, for Dave Gahan, it might feel like a whole lifetime ago.

It's hard to imagine it now, but back in 2003 the members of Depeche Mode were involved in a public slanging match. It seemed entirely plausible that DM would never record and tour again. Martin Gore had released his second solo album and was touring at the same time, having played the Astoria in London in May that year. The two of them clearly doing their own thing. Apart from each other.

Impossible to say with confidence where the 'blame' for all the washing of dirty laundry in public lies, but Gahan was not long out of the darkest period of his life. Drug overdose, near-death experience, then finding both his own voice and a firmer footing again, releasing his début album Paper Monsters in June that year. Who knows? Perhaps, for Dave 2003 feels like last year? Looking back on photos from and my review of that gig I was surprised that it was more than a decade ago. So many things have changed in that time for Gahan, and yet many constants remain.

The new album with Soulsavers Angels & Ghosts is rewarding (particularly on repeat listening), if not exactly stunning. But what is most successful about it, is that Gahan's voice now is far better suited to the mid and slow tempo of his latest release than the last three Depeche Mode albums. On those he was required to belt out the vocals, in part because many of the tracks are faster-paced. Live, he's also having to fill (literally and audibly) 20,000+ seater stadiums night after night, week after week, month after month. (The last three DM tours having all clocked in over 100 dates each.)

Whereas with the Soulsavers project, there are a grand, globe-trotting total of six, yes, that's not an error, six gigs to promote the album (two in the US and four in Europe). Gahan has nothing to prove here or anyone to impress. But that is so few, I do wonder if this is merely a warm up to see if he and Soulsavers fancy doing more dates, at least in each country. They'd certainly sell out.
This London date was the only one in the UK and a large proportion of the audience had travelled from continental Europe to see their man in action. Some Germans, dismayed at how quickly the only German date (in Berlin later this week) sold out, managed to get tickets and flew over for this evening's show instead.

There was an initial bout of respectful clapping when Dave's mum took up her seat in the balcony. That was followed by roars of affectionate approval when Andy Fletcher, Daniel Miller and DM live keyboardist Peter Gordeno, and drummer Christian Eigner took their seats. The evening's proceedings temporarily coming to a halt for a good five minutes as fans cheered, clapped and took photos of the guests.

[Photo]   [Photo]   [Photo]

Photos [L-R]: outside venue, gig ticket, fly posting outside after show

At which point, I couldn't help wonder if anyone here actually came on the strength of being a Soulsavers fan alone – not giving two hoots that Gahan was fronting them this evening? It was hard to believe they had.

Not to be dismissive of The Soulsavers, but (thankfully) there was no band introduction, no individual posturing or theatrics on their part. To all intents and purposes they were Gahan's backing band. And that was just fine for the sold-out, 2,000 capacity audience. In spite of such an intimate setting, there were more members on stage, ten of them, than I can ever remember Depeche Mode having. Four guitarists, two synth players, one drummer and three backing vocalists.

There was no support. The band were due on stage at a remarkably early 8pm (they came on a little after) and the whole thing was finished before 9:30pm. Perhaps it was the proliferation of red lighting and red drapes, lending the evening an air of an off-Broadway, or minor venue Las Vegas residency, that I honestly thought of Frank Sinatra at one point! Such thoughts prompted in part by just how much better Gahan sounds in a smaller, more intimate venue with material (frankly) better suited to his voice now. This wasn't the (sometimes slightly tongue in-cheek) faux crooning we've had before on DM tours, this was simply a rich and velvety, mature voice doing what it does best.

The main set was essentially an out-of-sequence performance of the new album, re-enforcing that there are some choice cuts in there: One Thing (sadly missing from tonight's set), the current (and a touch DM) single All Of This And Nothing, and the rousing album closing My Sun. Much of the remainder of the show came from the Soulsaver's previous album The Light The Dead See (for which Gahan only wrote lyrics and sang), was interesting rather than thrilling.

What I did notice hearing the material live, is that there's often very little in the compositions themselves that stands out. Many feel like simply backing tracks to Gahan's dexterous delivery. Whereas any number of Martin Gore-penned DM tunes could work equally well as instrumentals, having a evolving structure and plenty of hooky melodies, the material written by Gahan in collaboration with Soulsavers is more stripped back, minimal. That's not to say less good. But different in intent and execution.
The basic elements of Blues being readily apparent on several songs, for example.

Unlike in 2003, where there were half a dozen, just two DM songs made the cut tonight. Both of which were easily predicted: Condemnation not a personal favourite but has always been one of Gahan's; and Walking In My Shoes from the last Depeche Mode album with Alan Wilder. Where was Wilder? Maybe the two old friends could collaborate. Now, that would be very interesting.

The pre-show play list was what one expects Gahan listens to at home. Blues, The Rolling Stones and, just before going on stage, Led Zeppelin. What was particularly great about this evening's performance was there was no pressure on Gahan. Unlike 2003, he has nothing to prove. He could (and in my view should) continue to pursue this collaborative, solo, non-DM path, and play for as long as he can stand and his voice holds out.

Although for most it will always play second fiddle to the Depeche Mode juggernaught, I hope Dave keeps doing his own thing. He's entering a new phase in his career, and it bodes well. And, I look forward to seeing him in Vegas, twelve years from now. 7/10

Rob Dyer

Setlist: In The Morning, Shine, You Owe Me, Tempted, Tonight, All Of This And Nothing, Presence of God, Just Try, Don't Cry, The Last Time, Take Me Back Home, My Sun Encore: Kingdom, Dirty Sticky Floor, Condemnation, Walking In My Shoes

See also:
Dave Gahan - Shepherd's Bush Empire, London – 9 July 2003