Nitzer Ebb/De/Vision/Janousch Moldau

Postbahnhof, Berlin - 9 June 2009

"De/Vision were the main draw tonight and they were on the top of their form"

Convention of the Universe flyerOfficially the "Convention of the Universe", an event for Depeche Mode fans one day ahead of them playing at the Olympic Stadium also in Berlin, this was housed in a repurposed and suitably industrial building on the fringes of the city centre. The other, larger half of the complex playing host to Dr Von Hagen's plastinised human body displays, I was surprised at the decent sound the engineers had managed to come up with in the Postbahnhof's tin shed-like surroundings. With plenty of black-clad devotionals milling around, I predicted I'd spot someone famous (I have a knack for these things) and, sure enough, former Mute boss and Depeche Mode promoter since their teenage years, Daniel Miller was soon seen in among the followers. We found out from some friends the next evening, who were also here tonight, that this was trumped big time by Martin Gore and Andy Fletcher also being present for the gig. (This was verified in an article in the Berliner Zeitung newspaper the next day.)

De/VisionAll the bands appearing tonight were well chosen for their affinity with or connection to Depeche Mode. Frozen Plasma were due to open but - based on an extremely cursory understanding of the notices outside - were apparently unable to make it (my hold of the German language being severely limited largely to the lyrics of Kraftwerk songs. Unfathomably, I never did find the opportunity to use "Wenn Wellen schwingen, Ferne Stimmen singen" (or: "When airwaves swing, distant voices sing" from Airwaves) in all the six days I was there. So, instead of Frozen Plasma, we had a very earnest performance from one Janosch Moldau a solo synthie-pop (in the local vernacular) artist.

A lone figure on stage, Janosch alternated between guitar and expensive new Moog synth proving to be as competent as the melodic songs of romance demanded. The vocal delivery was often a bit overwrought, as it can sometimes be when non-natives sing in English, and some tracks would have been much better as instrumentals. We lasted about four songs by which time a familiar format was well established. Yuko and I sought to soak up some of the last of the day's fading sunlight in the garden outside.

De/Vision were, in all honesty, the main draw tonight. When they took to the stage I realised that a guy I was chatting to earlier in the day trying to establish if we could buy tickets on the door was Thomas Adam - one half of the band. I don't know most of their repertoire (still only owning 1998's superb Monosex) but that wasn't a major drawback either for me or my wife whose sole point of reference is Monosex's God Is Blind - a song she is convinced sounds like a Johnny Hates Jazz number. Like many of their countrymen, this duo have a professional quality about everything they do, be it songwriting, performance, promo vids, sleeve artwork, you name it, that is rarely seen in the UK outside of major label artists. And these guys were at the top of their form tonight. On the plus side, there were some monster basslines in evidence, but Steffen Keth's dancing at times was not something to aspire to. Even the highly sceptical partner gave her seal of approval once the set was over, so even at a Depeche Mode convention, in Berlin, in Germany, De/Vision can still win over converts to their cause - impressive.

Nitzer Ebb 2009: Doug McCarthyHeadliners Nitzer Ebb have long been part of the Mute electronic set and have supported Depeche Mode on tour in the past. My interest in NE has waned steadily over the years and their reformation and return to live gigging in recent years although broadly welcome on a conceptual level simply doesn't cut the mustard for my well-seasoned ears. The plonky clunkiness of Shame still manages to entice, but most of the remainder of their set, particularly the early stuff, really doesn't stand the test of time that well.

Bon Harris was vigorous enough on his drums (accompanied by a second unknown drummer) and Douglas McCarthy's voice was as growling as it ever was; but I find it all so one-dimensional now. From McCarthy's neverending pacing back and forth across the full length of the stage, something he's been doing for donkey's years, to the compositions themselves - it can only ever go so far. Theoretically, this in itself shouldn't be a problem, (see genre pioneers D.A.F. who still cut it live despite working broadly with the same compositional template) but it is. Not that many in the now packed out venue seemed to agree with me.

With bigger and better plans for the following night Yuko and I bailed out about halfway through the set around midnight. I'll probably go to another Nitzer Ebb gig in future but, like tonight, it will be for the support act rather than the headliners. 7/10

Rob Dyer