Depeche Mode

Olympic Stadium, Berlin - 10 June 2009

"68,000 people - amazing"

When Depeche Mode announced last October that their Tour of the Universe would only take in stadium venues across the globe my heart sank as most stadium venues are rubbish for gigs, not least due to the usually awful acoustics. However, when I heard that the band would play at the historic Olympic Stadium in Berlin (where they'd held their press conference last October announcing the tour), the once swastika-clad stadium where, in 1936, black athlete Jessie Owens set world records and grabbed four gold medals and humiliated the Nazi ideal in the process, I realised this could be a once-in-a-lifetime chance so just had to be there.

Having never been to Berlin before, my wife and I used the gig as an opportunity to play tourist for a week. A planned tour of the famous Hansa studios (used by Bowie to record Low and Heroes and by Depeche Mode four times, the first time to record the 1983 album Construction Time Again) didn't happen and an acoustic gig by Noblese Oblige the same week was unfortunately cancelled at the last minute. However, we did get to go to a DM convention the night before where label mates Nitzer Ebb were headlining, whilst Mode's Martin Gore and Andy Fletcher lent their support from the audience. The roles were reversed tonight with Nitzer Ebb helping to make up the reported 68,000 fans filling out the vast Olympic venue. By far the biggest gig I've ever been to and, give or take a few (and depending on your source) it matches or even exceeds the epic Rose Bowl gig in Pasadena in 1988 featured in the Depeche Mode documentary film 101.

Depeche Mode - Olympic Stadium, Berlin Depeche Mode - Olympic Stadium, Berlin Depeche Mode - Olympic Stadium, Berlin Depeche Mode - Olympic Stadium, Berlin

Walking up to the stadium, through the famous towers, the tens of thousands hanging out before the band took to the stage were relaxing on the grass that circles the enormous oval arena, drinking German pilsner from branded DM plastic cups (6 Euros - including the beer), and eating German sausage hotdogs - creating a good natured festival atmosphere.

Tonight's gig very nearly had to be cancelled. In fact, several dates in the run up to tonight were. A few weeks prior it emerged that lead singer Dave Gahan had been admitted to hospital where it was discovered that he has a cancerous tumour that had to be removed in a serious operation. Understandably, this resulted in some dates being cancelled. Thankfully, the Berlin date wasn't. It was only the second gig after Dave's post-op return to the stage. People we met who had also seen them a couple of nights before in Leipzig reported that he was noticeably less capable on that night. Having rocked away for 2 hours tonight - if you didn't know about the incident, you'd be hard pushed to tell anything was amiss - such was Gahan's determination.

Depeche Mode - Olympic Stadium, BerlinDepeche Mode - Olympic Stadium, BerlinHaving toured for 30 years, the set was the broadly standard Depeche Mode approach - focus initially on the current album, throw in a smattering from the last few albums, then give over most of the second half of the set to some popular mid-career numbers. Thankfully though it wasn't a textbook approach with perhaps Fly On The Windscreen from Black Celebration being the most unexpected inclusion. But the whole thing did feel different to usual. To some extent, that was bound to be in part to the phenomenal atmosphere in a country where the band probably still enjoy their biggest, hardcore following; but it was more than that.

Having become slightly indifferent in recent years to the overly familiar styling of Anton Corbijn's visuals, instead of the usual elements video director Jon Shrimpton had come up with less self-consciously 'artistic' video clips to accompany the songs. The film made for Peace [see left] the second single from the latest album, was a montage of black and white archive footage of peace protests, and machines of war, having more in common with the promo video for 1984 single People are People than anything Corbijn has produced for the band in the last 20+ years. Good to see too that my old friend and former band mate Kerry Hopwood is still helping the boys out with all the live computers and programming (little did we know back in the early 80s listening to and imitating Depeche Mode that so many years later he'd be a regular key part of their live world!).

All the other familiar videos used for other hits and classics had been replaced too. Walking In My Shoes had a black crow flying back and forth. Simple, but effective and evocative of the original promo video which also had a bird theme. Perhaps the best, certainly the most iconic, update were the typically playful yet cool images of the three band members walking around in spaceman suits to Enjoy The Silence. They obviously knew this was one of the strongest images as it featured as one of the T-Shirt designs on sale outside. The video for Strangelove had undergone another update, this time focusing on some female to female toe sucking in the gaudy, saturated hues of their brightly coloured lingerie.

Jezebel sounded even more indulgent live than it does on the album but at least afforded many of us the opportunity to sit down for a few minutes. Other middling fare from the album worked better live (as it often does), including Come Back. Admittedly, the sound and the acoustics were just what you'd expect from an open-air venue built for sports rather gigs, but the location of our seats high up, near the front to one side of the stage were not the finest in the house Depeche Mode - Olympic Stadium, Berlinwhich will have been a factor. Having said that, the rendition of Waiting For The Night that finished the evening was easily the most thrilling I'd ever heard live. Usually plagued (and ruined) by echoes affecting the timing of the percussion backing with the lead melody, the reconstructed version here had none of that and yet was faithful evoking all the emotional power of its album counterpart.

Fans waiving their arms back and forth above their heads like fields of corn in the wind along to Never Let Me Down has always been a highpoint since the band included it in their live sets on the Music For The Masses tour in 1987. Having witnessed and, yes, participated in such actions down the years, there has always been a sizable portion of the audience reluctant to join in. But not tonight. And there were 68,000 people here. The effectively universal sight of seeing the entire stadium moving in synch, and from our vantage point of being high up in the Olympiastadion looking down on them all, genuinely creating for the first time the impression of a vast sea of corn waiving in the wind - totally in unison too - was a once in a lifetime, hair-standing-up-on-the-back-of-your-neck moment anyone there will never forget. Amazing. 8/10

Setlist: 01. In Chains 02. Wrong 03. Hole To Feed 04. Walking In My Shoes 05. It's no good 06. A Question of Time 07. Precious 08. Fly on The Windscreen 09. Jezebel 10. A Question of Lust 11. Come Back 12. Peace 13. In Your Room 14. I Feel You 15. Policy of Truth 16. Enjoy The Silence 17. Never Let Me Down Again 18. Stripped 19. Master and Servant 20. Strangelove 21. Personal Jesus 22. Waiting for The Night

Rob Dyer