Depeche Mode : Berlin Waldbuhne

Still Gahan strong...

IN THIS anniversary year, the class of ’81 have mostly taken comfort in tradition. But while U2 and New Order fall back on guitars and greatest hits, the other graduates of that 50-million-plus-sales post-punk superleague are still pushing forward, still selling out arenas in minutes, and still underrated in their homeland. Too old for Radio 1, too weird for Radio 2,

Depeche Mode remain the biggest cult band in Britain. But does that make them any good? Try asking the 20,000 Germanic street screechers who throng this former Hitler Youth amphitheatre on the first of two sell-out Berlin dates. The atmosphere here is beyond hysterical long before the band arrive for a two-hour marathon.

It’s heavy on the new ‘Exciter’ album, with virtually no ’80s Mode and barely half a dozen singles ? but still everybody screams every word. In this age of bewildering consumer choice, Depeche have cracked pop’s holy grail: brand loyalty.

For most of the ’90s the Mode were divided by drugs, egos and internal friction. On their 1998 tour they seemed fragile, depleted, uneven. This time they rock like a Panzer division. Right from the glam-stomp of ‘Dead Of Night’, Dave Gahan is on killer form – a slicked-back, duck-walking, zoot-suited rock’n’roller, shagging his mic stand and high-kicking the night air. Meanwhile Martin Gore, rock’s campest heterosexual, wearing the single wing and snow-white bondage trousers of a fallen angel, joins Dave in frequent bouts of back-to-back arse-dancing.

With just the slightest mid-set lull, the pacing is near-perfect. Depeche can still pound out thunderdome metal-bashers like ‘I Feel You’ and ‘Personal Jesus’, or Wagnerian disco behemoths like ‘Enjoy The Silence’. But a newly crafted subtlety and Gahan’s enriched voice also allows room for twinklers like ‘When The Body Speaks’ and ‘Free Love’. Whatever their internal tensions, the Mode seem at their most coherent and in-sync for a decade. They?ve finessed the gulf between Gahan’s comical rock-star histrionics and the other two’s more restrained, Euro-cool detachment into some kind of revved-up, sky-punching, dynamic whole. Crashing from anthemic peak to anthemic peak, Depeche Mode are a national institution with an international cult following. In an era of lacklustre megashows and trad-leaning superstars, respect is due.

Stephen Dalton