So a few months have passed since the release of the eagerly anticipated Depeche Mode Live/Alive in Berlin package, and we here at XSNoize.com decided after analysis of the Soundtrack at the time of its emergence that we would hold off and give our thoughts on the visual aspect of the project when we were in possession of all available formats.
Sky Arts HD will be showing a condensed High def version of the live concert (no interviews) for those of us who didn’t want to, or feel the need to resort to an iTunes download to get their HD fix. It will be televised on Sky Arts 1 HD UK from 9.00pm -10.30pm on Saturday 28th February 2015 with repeats being shown at 3am on Sunday and 8.30am on Monday.
As previously mentioned this release had started to cause some stirrings among the Depeche Mode faithful firstly because of the lack of Blu Ray format which brought with it numerous questions as to why in this day and age a High Res format wouldn’t make the shelves and secondly the release itself has bore many an Amateur gaff that makes one wonder if the Sony/Columbia office tea boy was left in charge of the final release detailing, but that’s another story with too many mishaps including believe it or not, Mono sound on one format, to try and write in one review. Sony/Columbia please take note!
Alarm bells started over this release when a tweet purporting to be from Director Anton Corbijns Twitter account emerged describing his preference for old style filming after the press release revealed no BD release, and then of late, German magazine “Sonic Seducer” featured an interview with Corbijn in the December issue that perturbed the masses into believing a tangible High definition release may never occur, where he spoke of his work on the project answering a question put to him about his role during the concert filming in a quite ambiguous way, stating “This question also has to do with the fact that some people think that the concert absolutely had to be released on Blu Ray. I like watching a Concert in the old-fashioned way. I am not very fond of these modern cameras flying around. I like the approach that everything is being seen from one point of view. As if one is standing among the crowd. So I actually did not use a lot of modern technology” and “I like it when my live recordings appear to be a bit unpolished, in the same way that my photos are very grainy”.
Contradiction to the Max in this case as Alive in Berlin was shot in 1080p resolution and was made available on iTunes download and now for TV, in comparison to the “Deluxe” box set that contained both Live and Alive in Berlin in meagre 480p low res DVD format. This marketing ploy shows all the hallmarks of a planned future BD release featuring contents such as Live in Berlin with uncompressed stereo and 5.1/DTS sound, not broken up in flow with interviews like the Alive in Berlin feature and extras such as a tour documentary, Concert Screen videos and similar extras that have featured on previous DM live releases.
Things really that should have been standard on a live release in this day and age. As with previous Depeche Mode releases during the Sony/Columbia tenure this concept again leaves a massive wanting among the Depeche Mode fan community which no doubt the marketing juggernaut will have duly noted and conspired to assist in relieving them of their hard earned cash in the coming months when they selflessly decide that the adoring fans deserve the release of the BD that they so yearned for. It may well be a move the band themselves need to show leadership on and dictate to the label and management, as this release more than any has divided the Depeche Mode community, due to the low level of quality, the regurgitated set-list and the general unimaginative concept put in front of us by Corbijn who clearly hasn’t adjusted his ego enough to move into the 21st century.
So enough of the “Everything” bashing and onto the actual performance capture. So this feature was viewed firstly in its DVD state which was, as concert films go, Depeche Mode by numbers but hugely entertaining all the same. Yes this sounds a contradiction in itself but hey, they don’t put on bad shows, just have a tendency to play safe come the live shoots and have a tendency to become slightly repetitive in the track listings. This was viewed using an upscaling player and immediately it was evident that the 480p resolution suffered from a blurring that almost took me back to my VHS days. The directing was impressive in parts with some boom cam panoramics that captured the whole stage and side screens, and some crowd cam shots trying to give the illusion of watching from a fans perspective, but the low res just made this a very ordinary live film, watchable, enjoyable but nothing spectacular.
Anton Corbijn did not feel the need to employ gimmicks through the film like Blue Leach incorporated in Touring the Angel nor did he use any goldfish bowl effect as in the Live in Barcelona BD directed by Russell Thomas but compared to the heavily colour saturated Devotional that Corbijn oversaw, this feature does not capture the emotive darkness that is so prominent in Depeche Mode’s work. I enjoy a live show without interruption so Live in Berlin was the appealing factor when I formulated this review but I was left wanting, cheated maybe because in my own selfish way the Visual impact was lost on me because it just was not up to the standard and resolution that I expect today so I turned to Alive in Berlin that was available as a download in 1080p resolution from iTunes.
This feature will formulate my analysis of the release due to the immediate quality enhancement that I found upon commencement (This had already been viewed in DVD format so a marked difference was observed). Corbijn who since 1986 has predominantly been responsible as Depeche’s visual director has been responsible for the stage design of the tours since 1993 and from 1998 has kept the stage setting to a simplistic design incorporating a low styled platform, concentrating on heavily backlit imagery and filmic sequences shot by himself in his interpretation to the individual tracks performed. The set was designed to reflect the Delta Machine album design incorporating five triangles adjoined to make a large rear stage screen, a two tier chevron ed raised keyboard stage with high parallel visual panel in the same chevron ed shape and two side screens. Lighting effect was as usual understated due to the Visuals but lighting designer Paul Normandale still made some notable contribution namely during Soothe my Soul and Black Celebration in particular.
The defining difference between the formats was the obvious clarity of the Alive in Berlin download which started with a group high five session in the corridors of the Arena backstage before the band filtered onto the stage to an introduction of “Welcome to my World” visualized with brush stroked white paint words over a black background transferring to a multi coloured target that immediately displays the vibrancy of colour lacking from the lesser format. This isn’t anything new in the shape of visual sequence from Corbijn as the painted words were a feature of “Stripped” during the Devotional tour and on many a DM record sleeve but there is a familiarity that many a Depeche Mode fan can connect with.
Dave Gahan smooths his way onto the stage with a slow pirouette, donning a black sparking jacket and waistcoat, guy-liner adorned and immediately takes the show to a human level, powerful vocals and controlled movement showing just the odd arm wave and sway, enough to introduce himself to the enthusiastic audience. The duo of Gahan and Gore feature next through “Angel” red lighting and video contradicting the title and the energy commences both with Gahan and the drummer Christian Eigner, replicating the drum machine pattern used on the album.
The clarity of this version takes it to the nest level with its deep dark Blacks vibrant colours and the distinct lack of moire that the previous live in Barcelona suffered from in parts. The film cuts to a NYC scene with Dave Gahan talking about the bands relationship with Berlin in the past and then moves to Andy Fletcher who is placed in a room somewhere outside the Kaiser Wilhelm memorial church near Kerfurstendamm in Berlin itself and Martin Gore talking about his time living in Berlin from the Bel Ami Bordello situated in West Berlin.
The show continues after this break for interviews with some crowd angled filming which at times appears quite shaky and with no particular close up shots of the band members through “Walking in my Shoes” further interviews with “Fletch” and the band manager “Baron Jonathan Kessler” before another strange Corbijn film backing “Precious” involving lots of different Dogs sitting doing really…nothing! The highlight of the visual aspect of this tour comes in the shape of “Should Be Higher” with a backdrop, side screen and chevron platform film of fire performers at work throwing flames and sparks around the arena setting quite a dynamic backdrop in comparison to the majority of the mundane films made by Corbijn. The majority of the visuals that make the show are filmed live at the concert and transferred immediately onto the screens using a variety of effects that are probably missed by the concert goers but appreciated in this setting .
Thankfully the HD version at this point shows maximum effect as the rather blurry DVD really dampens down the of the visuals. The Martin Gore section of the show also showcases why this release needs a Blu Ray release, the detail in his attire down to the glitter showing on the arms provides confirmation that the previous insinuations are in fact either diversionary on the part of the record company or just complete bollocks……Grainy and old fashioned my arse!! The show continues from the Gore interlude with Depeche Mode blasting through their classics A Question of Time, Enjoy the Silence, oddly below a visualized backdrop of female contortionists and the Religious stomp fest Personal Jesus before returning for an encore which featured a slowed down version of Violators Halo in its Goldfrapp guise the crowd lifting Just can’t get enough and the anthemic Never Let Me Down again highlighting the audience arm swaying in all its Depeche Mode glory. The show is completed with the Delta Machine finale Goodbye, blues guitar and thunderous beat intact and all in all a triumphant ending to a good but not excellent film.
Depeche Mode had raised the bar so high for themselves through previous projects and with the Delta Machine project although without hiccup it looked like the boys were attaining the quality that they are renowned, but with this release they seem to have dropped their guard and let that quality slip to something more akin to acceptable and not perfect. Highlights for me from the performance were the new tracks performed from the Delta Machine album, especially the lighting and visual accompaniment to Should Be Higher, and as always Never Let Me Down again which never fails to disappoint, but in my opinion as with a lot of fans the repetition of the track lists for Depeche Mode live shows nowadays will ultimately cost the band sales with this release due to many of the tracks having been performed on previous tours and featuring on their accompanying DVD releases.
Fortunately for those who have refused on principle to shell out for Live/Alive in Berlin Sky Arts HD UK will give you a taster of what the show has to offer