EThere are certainly hundreds of journalists better suited to writing about Depeche Mode than I am. People who have followed the band for many, many years – yes, over four decades. Who know every studio album, have seen them live extremely often, who can expertly dissect why which piece was played now of all times; who, above all, could judge the extent of the loss of band member Andrew Fletcher, who died last year, much better than I can. They know how to assess Dave Gahan’s singing, his gestures, his mood or whether it is an exception that Martin Gore has set the climax of a wonderful evening with his solo in “A Question of Lust” – and whether this evening is actually like that utterly magnificent is how it strikes me.
So. After about half of the concert in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium, it’s clear to me that I would, no: have to, serve as a short-term reviewer. Because on the one hand this performance of the band closes a biographical circle for me personally, on the other hand I am as enthusiastic as perhaps only someone who came to the Olympic Stadium without any expectations, at the invitation of a dear friend, and dealt with the painful , but at our age leaves the painful realization that one has simply ignored a big band for a lifetime.
Depeche Mode – that was, back in the early and mid ’80s, the mainstream incarnation of New Wave, which wasn’t widely thought of anyway because it was just a bastard of punk and ’70s melodies. And if so, then please the always underestimated exceptional geniuses “Men without Hats” or Vince Clarke’s “Yazoo.” Depeche Mode, the band that Clarke once founded, seemed too consensus-driven and hit-driven. “Master and Servant,” that pounding. You know what I mean.
The band that is playing now has almost nothing to do with Depeche Mode from before
And so, despite twitching melancholy bones, we held back when the deeply sad synth fanfare of “Everything Counts” drew everyone else onto the dance floor of the neon village disco “Limit”. What “U2” was to rock music, “Depeche Mode” was for pop – it seemed too contemporary, too artificial. And we smiled at the black-shirted dancers who so aggressively put one foot in front of the other, lost in thought, while their arms and hands drew strange signs in the air. So: if so, then Sisters of Mercy, The Mission, if you like The Cure.
The band, which is now playing their first of three sold-out concerts in the Olympic Stadium – and we’re talking about an estimated 70,000 fans per evening – has almost nothing to do with the Depeche Mode of the time and yet everything. We are experiencing a rock concert, not “synth-pop”, as it was called back then, when the Roland DX-7 keyboard practically single-handedly established a musical genre. Everything about this evening has welcome barbs, most clearly illustrated perhaps in the riffy rendition of “Walking in my Shoes,” which forsakes all grandeur in favor of an almost filthy defiance.
Of course, there were Bravo star cuts from Depeche Mode (and we despised anything even mentioned in Bravo), but that’s all long gone. Even the early work grinds the band down into gritty, heavy, whole-grain morsels. Only the restrained anthemic “Enjoy the Silence” remains in all its great radiance, so close to the most brilliant heroes of the mini-epoch, the Pet Shop Boys, what it always was.
Depeche Mode’s molts are legendary anyway. They lived through what gossiping coaches today dictate as “always reinventing themselves” in their boring clients’ notebooks, over and over again. Depeche Mode were – again not dissimilar to U2 (“Zooropa”!!!) – always renewed after phases in which the band was almost given up. Although it’s none of our business, we do remember the shock with which singer Dave Gahan, with oversized heretical pathos, took his band to a whole new, irritating level with “Personal Jesus”.
Ever Gahan. Not many people are forgiven for wearing a black vest with a gold back piece. him. His stage presence is tremendous, and it is that of a young man. At the age of 61 he has by no means withdrawn into the role of the aged star, who scores with ironic distance from the gesture of his past self: No, he is still a young man. And gore? His blond curly hair, the beady eyes, the once so strange kajal face have dissolved in a great depth. As I said: The best moment of the concert belongs to him.
Minimalist reduced appearance
But what do I know! The evening at the Olympic Stadium is my first Depeche Mode concert, and I couldn’t have imagined it being better. Surely the connoisseurs report grandiose, more sensational shows – in contrast, the evenings of the “Memento Mori” tour are as minimalistic in performance as the band’s music was once said to be.
No fire-breathing trusses or towers, no curved screens or nested double floors: one screen on the right, one on the left, one in the middle – the projections are cut together as if not by Anton Corbijn, but by a rather inferior student of the Dutch master visionary. The modesty with which Depeche Mode is staging their biggest tour is almost provocative. That may or may not be related to the death of Fletcher – commemorated in the most fitting way imaginable with still photos during “World in My Eyes”.
An incredible power
The concert unfolds an incredible impact every minute. As often as attempts have been made to translate the intimacy of a club concert into the absurdity of a stadium show; as infinitely often as this project has failed – here it succeeds almost perfectly.
As I said, there are certainly hundreds of journalists better suited to writing about Depeche Mode. But as of tonight there is one more who gives this band the respect it deserves. Chapeau! Maybe a bit late after 40 years. But from the heart.