KRAFTWERK : Brighton Centre 06 June 17 + London Royal Albert Hall 22 June 17
This might be the last time. With Ralfbot at 70, and even the newer* members Henning Schmitzbot and Fritz Hilbot past 60, Kraftwerk are a touring museum. Age moves forward one day at a time, and whilst Kraftwerk have seemed mercifully free of the ravages of time, this is their largest tour in 35 years, and they are neither immortal, nor invincible.
*though 'newer' means they have both been in the band over 25 years, and both were studio engineers for the bands starting the 70's and 80's.
Presenting a 2 hour performance that isn't so much a concert as a huge art installation, tonight is a Gesamtkunstwerk, a playful presentation of a complete work of art. The show drips in understated, dry humour ; from absurd and deliberate audio glitches presented utterly straight faced, to the minimalist graphics that comprise the huge visual backdrop. And it is a staggering show, built on state of the art 3D graphics, sympathetic lighting that sees the Albert Hall lit up in the thematic colours of each song (blue / white / red, for “Tour De France”), and a rumbling bass louder than Leftfield ever were that makes me feel like I am in a techno earthquake.
Ever evolving , ever changing, yet rooted forever in a permanent concept that never changed but was merely refined, tonights show is probably the pinnacle of the Kraftwerk live experience, though miles away from the rampant and raucous crowd-surfing I saw their shows in the 90's ; and certainly the best show of theirs I've seen since the first a quarter century ago.
The show is by now, a traditional glimpse of a nostalgic future : in effect a condensed version of the “Catalogue” box set, the show sees the band present – mostly chronologically, most of most of their albums in order, with a mastery over every song from their established albums, and several songs that have only recently been played live. And they've never sounded so good live.
They open with the huge, immaculately precise “Numbers/Computerworld”, and ends, 134 minutes later, with a 15 minute romp through “Boing Boom Tschak / Techno Pop / Music Non Stop”. Sure, it looks like four blokes with laptops, but its really four craftsmen at easels, creating art before our eyes, and presenting something that isn't a concert, or art, but a gorgeous hybrid of the two. It's the type of music where you sit and feel and think and your brain just goes off there, and you end up thinking “That looks like a Superman movie”, or “The newer cars with higher numberplates always overtake the slower ones” during “Autobahn”. Or where you remember that the first synthesisers cost the same as a car in 1973, and that's why the song was about motorways, using the Volkswagen Beetle as a metaphor for the liberating power of technology.
> and hence a graphic of a car radio <
As an audio-visual presentation that cuts across multiple mediums ; sound, vision, light, art, and words, around key themes, we're invited to absorb, to contemplate, and to feel - but every day the arrangement is altered ; subtle variations arrive between Brighton and London, the addition of various percussive improvisations, lyrical switches between the German and English language versions, and minor visual tweaks, all of which adhere to the central theme. Alongside the inherent silliness of a huge banks of computers all tweaked to pull out immaculate sounds designed tor remind you of Cartoons, Batman, and old Science Fiction. It's like a kids playset for geeks who never grew up, complete with robots, trains, cars, bombs, spaceships, all thinking of an alternate future for mankind when Man>Nature>Technology all kind of worked out.
The band seem to be having a great time : subtle inflections indicate so, a tapping leg, eye contact, a smile. Sound buffets and rolls across the auditorium. The audience are clearly repressed – actually feeling that they want to dance and release – given the frequent whoops, claps, and responses, that culminate in mass co-ordinated clapping and … yet, we all seem glued to our seats until the final encore, which sees each member luxuriate in a solo section : Falk is the first to exit, and gets a standing ovation, that rapidly turns into a full, stoodup gig for the next six minutes.
The remaining members (Fritz and Henning) pick up their customary improvisatory section (16 bars, no more no less), Ralf actually stops playing, and watches with a big smile on his face. By Kraftwerk standards this is possibly akin to him breaking down in tears mid song saying “I love you all”.
As Henning leaves, he bows, smiles widely, and gestures to Ralf as the architect of all this. And, as it ends, and I see the final moments of what might be my final Kraftwerk show [and that is a weird feeling after 30 years of gigging], Ralf pauses, and clasps his hands together and places his fist over his heart. It's the nearest I've seen to an act of emotion ; possible then, as this work fo art near the end, even these small gestures are their way of recognising and acknowledging that we've seen the sum of a life's work here ; and it was worth it.
These songs may be old, but their meanings are eternal,and the passing of time has deepened mere songs into something far bigger around the nature of the relationship between man, nature, the planet, and each other. How cool is coldness?
its more fun to compute
the man machine
tour de france
trans europe express
metal on metal
planet of visions
boing boom tschak
music non stop