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The greatest frontman in music: Depeche Mode's Dave Gahan

Words by Rob Chilton

The electronic music legend features in Spirits in the Forest, a new documentary to be shown in cinemas. Rob Chilton salutes the charismatic stage performer

During an idle moment the other day I scribbled down the great music frontmen I’ve seen live. Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age was like a ginger Elvis and totally riveting. Liam Gallagher was magnetic. For pure pop entertainment and ridiculously brilliant dancing, there’s nobody better than Justin Timberlake. I remembered being terrified of Kasabian singer Tom Meighan’s anarchy. Similarly, Richard Ashcroft also seemed to be in a bad mood – but in a good way. George Michael was old-fashioned charm and professionalism, accompanied by a sublime voice. Matt Bellamy from Muse, Coldplay’s Chris Martin, Tom Chaplin from Keane and Alex Turner of Arctic Monkeys were all fizzing balls of jerky, crowd-pleasing energy while Guy Garvey from Elbow created a feelgood unity in the room that made me weep with joy.

Gahan never misses a beat

But the guy that tops the lot is Dave Gahan. Depeche Mode’s stick-thin, leather-clad singer packages all of the above into a stage presence that has taken my breath away on the occasions I’ve watched him perform.

I’ve seen Depeche Mode live three times: Madison Square Garden in New York in December 2005, the PNC Bank Arts Center open-air amphitheatre New Jersey in May 2006, and the Formula One gig at Abu Dhabi’s du Arena in November 2013. Every time Gahan stole the show to such an extent that I almost felt guilty for ignoring his bandmates Martin Gore and Andy Fletcher.

On stage Gahan is charismatic, funny and 100 per cent committed. He is over the top, flamboyant, camp and rude. If you ever showed a video of Gahan on stage to your grandmother, she might call him ‘saucy’. He struts, thrusts and jabs like Mick Jagger who’s had too much espresso.

At the forefront of electro music since the early 1980s

It’s not all for show, though. Backing it all up is the most complete, sonorous and crystal clear voice that dominates the concert and tells the drums, guitars and keyboards to sit down and pay attention.

Depeche Mode, the British New Wave electro-synth band that started in the early 1908s with the anthemic Just Can’t Get Enough, most recently toured in 2017/2018. Their Global Spirit Tour saw them play 115 shows around the world to more than 3 million fans. This gargantuan tour was recorded by acclaimed filmmaker and the band’s long-time collaborator Anton Corbijn. Footage has been crafted into a documentary/concert film titled Depeche Mode: Spirits in the Forest that gets a cinematic release this month.

But what makes this film so affecting is the personal stories of six very different Depeche Mode fans around the world. Corbijn paints a beautifully honest and emotional portrait of each fan that reveals their deep connection to the band and shows how their music has helped them to overcome adversity and live positive lives.

Gahan is proud of the new documentary Spirits in the Forest

Actual concert footage in Spirits in the Forest comes from Depeche Mode’s final gig of the world tour at the Waldbühne amphitheatre in Berlin on July 25, 2018. Gahan, now 55 but still fresh as a daisy, said: “I’m exceptionally proud to share this film and the powerful story that it tells. It’s amazing to see the very real ways that music has impacted the lives of our fans.”

According to many critics, the Global Spirit Tour was a hit. In his review of the Madison Square Garden show in September 2017 Billboard’s Andrew Unterberger said of Gahan, “For a 55-year-old veteran of three-and-a-half decades of rock touring and hard living, you certainly wouldn't expect the first adjective projected by his physical presence to be ‘limber.’ But, there he is, in the shimmying, windmilling, sleeveless-vest flesh, his years only showing in the most extreme big-screen closeups of sweat-glistening skin.”

Dave Gahan

Although watching Spirits in the Forest on screen won’t give you the full, real-life Dave Gahan experience, it will still provide a moreish taste of what it feels like to watch the great live performer in music today.

Spirits in the Forest screens in more than 2,400 theatres around the world, including various venues across the UAE, for one day only on November 21. For tickets go to spiritsintheforest.com

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