And now for something completely different…!
Kraftwerk, German synth music pioneers and innovators, formed way back in 1969 by Ralf Hutter and Florian Schneider, a true groundbreaking band who eschewed traditional music making processes in favour of experimentation in electronic music and technology, changing the musical landscape forever in the process. A true root metaphor for not only my musical tastes (up with the likes of Wilson and Bowie – in fact Kraftwerk’s influence on Bowie himself led to arguably his finest works in the likes of “Low” and “Station To Station”) but also countless rock and dance genres, their influence is still felt even today in my current record collection – the robotic metronome rhythms of Merchandise and the smooth European synth sound underpinning Editors and White Lies, for instance… Down to just the one original member in vocalist Hutter, and rarely touring except for one-off events which sell out in nanoseconds, this “3D” tour represented a (possibly last) chance to see them “live”, so had to be taken at any cost…!
Unfortunately, booking tix proved predictably impossible; despite logging on at the appointed hour to get tix for myself and Beef, and clicking on tix on the seating plan, they literally sold out from under my feet, and were gone in short order. So it wasn’t happening, much to my chagrin, until old friend Kate Hayden contacted me the previous week with a single ticket offer (just the one – sorry Beef!), thankfully at face value, which was still a spicy £82, representing my most expensive single night gig ticket evah! Yikes! Did I say “at any cost…”? Finances were juggled and other plans cancelled, and Saturday evening saw me tanking down a scorching M4 on the hottest day of the year, meeting Kate and hubby Ashley, then their friends in the pub for some pre-gig chat. Into the auditorium at 20 to 8, finding with joy that I had absolutely amazing seats 5 rows from the front! Chatted with my row companion, a genial lady who’d seen David Bowie here on the “Ziggy Stardust” tour in 1973(!), as eerie background electronic music played and 4 projected pixelated figures jerked robotically on the safety curtain, building the palpable anticipation.
Following a taped robotic introduction in both English and German, the curtains opened at the appointed hour of 8, revealing 4 large plinths, and staccato synth rhythms commenced as the band took the stage, in matching black “Tron” costumes, taking their places one behind each plinth. A huge backdrop screen displayed complementary images to the music, as teutonic, stark and austere as the music itself. This was an entirely different presentation of music to my usual modus operandi and I was unsure how I’d react, normally being critical of any bands (U2 being a prime example) who allow the stage show and props to overshadow what I’m really there for – the music. I needn’t worry though; in this instance this was sound and vision in duality, the two complementing each other perfectly, the visual aspect either augmenting the electronic rhythms (graphic pulses picking out the beats in a warm, lush “Computer Love”, or stark red and white blocks dancing behind the band for the more severe “Man Machine”), or illustrating the song’s subject (old black and white film of 60’s glamour for the excellent, eerie “The Model”, or vintage Tour De France clips for that eponymous later number). Planned and executed perfectly – German efficiency in action!
The Donna Summer bubbling disco pulse of “Spacelab” saw the lab itself reach out a 3D arm over the audience to gasps, then cheers as a 3D flying saucer “flew” out over the crowd, over the Bristol-docked SS “Great Britain”, landing outside the Colston Hall to parochial cheers! Great stuff, but topped for me by my set highlight “Autobahn”, the simple rhythm building to a beautiful, haunting refrain, as images of VWs and Mercs raced through an austere highway. We didn’t get the full 22 ½ minutes, although it ran to about 10! The “Geiger Counter”/”Radioactivity” medley was bleak and dystopian, as the screen flashed the location of nuclear accidents/ incidents, underpinning the band’s uneasy relationship with technology, fascination and warning in equal measure. “Tour De France” was a tour de force, building through the breathless, staccato synth to a bass-heavy, dubby conclusion. Then, a heavily stylised and minimalistic train design circumnavigated the screen during set closer “Trans Europe Express”, the metronome rhythm hypnotic and trance-like, the curtain coming across as we finally arrived at our destination to massive cheers.
Amazing stuff, but even I couldn’t believe my eyes as the curtain came across again – the band’s places had been taken up by amazingly lifelike robots, inevitably for “The Robots”. I had to film a bit of this on my phone, as I couldn’t really believe what I was seeing! The band themselves returned for second encore, the sheet synth of “Aerodynamik” and a chilled, almost ambient dance “Planet Of Visions”, and I understood why Kraftwerk had once been described as the most important dance band on the planet! This 2 hour 10 minute technological adventure ended with an almost cartoony “Boing Boom Tschak”/ “Music Non Stop” medley, the band peeling off one by one and taking individual bows, finally leaving Hutter alone onstage to ask, “are there any clubs in Bristol?” before an, “Auf Wiedersehen,” to a fully justified standing ovation.
Quick egress then home, reflecting on what I’d just seen. This was an incomparable show; as in, I really don’t have anything else to even remotely compare it to! I’m probably in need of seeing 4 blokes playing loud guitars in a tiny sweaty pub back room right now, but I’m so glad I got to see Kraftwerk, and it was well worth the effort and ticket price, so thanks again Kate! As I said, this was completely different!