Depeche Mode

Olympic Stadium, Berlin- 9 June 2013

"Only the Olympic Stadium will do - space for 66,000 fans tonight"

Whilst they struggle to be acknowledged (let alone taken seriously) by most of the mainstream media in their native UK (The Guardian newspaper being a notable recent exception), in Germany Depeche Mode remain the darlings of what is surely their spiritual home. They may not actually live in the country, but there was always something in the DNA of DM that meant it was inevitable that Deutschland, and Berlin in particular, became their surrogate homeland. When touring, they regularly play more dates in Germany than in the UK and enjoy the kind of respect and recognition that, back in the UK, is reserved exclusively for a small, elite cabal of ageing global rock superstars.

Evidence of their standing here could be found everywhere one went in the sun-bathed capital. The first thing we saw when we arrived outside our hotel were fly posters for Monument - the huge coffee table book tribute to Depeche Mode; a genuinely monumental chronicling of the boys from Basildon (and right up to date with artwork and photos of this very tour). Just down the road was an official exhibition (sponsored by German telecom giant T-Mobile) to accompany the book launch.

I lost track of the number of pre-and-aftershow club nights we saw posters and flyers for. And the morning following this concert two newspapers had colour photographs and reports on the gig – on their front pages. What all this means is that the best DM can pull off in London is the O2 Arena (capacity 20,000). No such messing about in Berlin. Here, only the Olympic Stadium will do – space for 66,000 fans tonight.

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It had been hot every day since we arrived in the city on the Friday, but at 7pm this evening the clouds came over and dropped rain on the thousands of fans who had standing tickets. The sea of black-clad devotees started turning yellow as they donned the pack-a-macs purchased outside. But rather than dampen their spirits the weather only made the opening lyrics of But Not Tonight (“Oh, God it's raining, but I'm not containing my pleasure at being so wet. The stars in the sky bring tears to my eyes.”) all the more poignant. You didn't have to look far around you to see devotees literally shedding tears of joy. Ahem.

My ambivalence towards some of the latest album is tempered by just how much better some of the songs sound live; suggesting that perhaps their live performance is something Gore and Gahan (consciously or otherwise) factor into their composition these days. It also helps that Depeche Mode remain one of the best live bands still gigging after more than thirty years at it. Other than that, it's a pretty strong set with a decent number of choice selections from their extensive back catalogue. The mix is varied, as always, including back catalogue stompers, Personal Jesus and A Question of Time are still rock solid highlights of any DM set; melancholia, via Waiting For The Night (and the aforementioned But Not Tonight), and new album tracks Should Be Higher in particular way more captivating live than the studio recording.

Quite noticeably, the audience dynamics here are quite different from the UK. I suspect that's down to in continental Europe the big, often bigger, audiences comprise overwhelmingly of hardcore DM fans. Back in the UK it feels as if it is more diluted with more casual fans and a proportion of those rediscovering the band having liked some of hit singles from the 1980s. All are welcome, of course, it's just that in Europe there's a greater feeling of being part of an extended fan family – the black masses.

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This evening was an early date in what was another, epic global tour so the setlist had yet to evolve to include some of the more choice, older material that has cropped up at live dates later on the tour. I've always had reservations about DM live setlists as they have always focused firmly on promoting the current album (seven of tonight's set taken from Delta Machine and no more than four from any other album) but, obvious hits aside, rarely include older fan favourites – particularly fine album-only tracks. Unless they decide to follow what others of their generation are increasingly doing in recent years, namely playing early albums in their entirety (just think of it!), I guess this approach is unlikely to change. As much as I'd like to hear them play some of their finest ever writing (I still hope that one day I'll get to hear The Sun And The Rainfall live), I'll gladly take them doing still what they do. 

Setlist: Intro, Welcome To My World, Angel, Walking In My Shoes, Precious, Black Celebration, Policy Of Truth, Should Be Higher, Barrel Of A Gun, Higher Love, But Not Tonight, Heaven, Soothe My Soul, A Pain That I'm Used To, A Question Of Time, Secret To The End, Enjoy The Silence, Personal Jesus, Goodbye (Encore:) Home, Halo, Just Can't Get Enough, I Feel You, Never Let Me Down Again

Review+Photos: Rob Dyer