by Sir John Reid Hatchporch
This was written when I was a bright-eyed college student. In those days, following a concert, I would force myself to stay up all night until my review was done. These "reviews" were always exhaustive, covering every nuance of the show as well as every song played and any memorable comments I could remember. More importantly, the tone often lapsed into what one might deem "fanboydom." I apologize in advance for any embarrassing, hyperbolic statements made over the course of this review, as well as the length, but have decided to keep the review up as is for posterity. Enjoy!
First off I have to say I was shocked by the number of people in attendance. My friend and I drove around the entrance to the Palladium and noticed the long line that went from the entrance around the corner. Uh-oh. Once we parked (and paid the exorbitant $7 parking fee) we were on our way. What also surprised me was how many different types of people I saw in line, varying in both age and appearance. I once asked myself the silly question 'how many people could have possibly ever heard of Kraftwerk?' Well, I guess I was about to find out.
The line was unbelievable. Around half the block. Picture this: here's the entrance near the corner. Now go all the way down the sidewalk to the next corner, turn the corner, and go all the way down to the very end of that sidewalk. This was the hugest crowd I'd ever been in for a show.
I was all decked out in my "Man Machine" garb...red, long sleeve shirt with black thin tie, and much to my surprise (yet again) I saw no less than half a dozen people dressed the same way throughout the course of the evening. Great minds think alike, I guess.
It takes forever to get inside because the security is SOOOO tight. There are two guys at the front of each line. One to search you with that little electronic gizmo (a-la Spinal Tap) and one to actually pat you down. I had heard from a man in line that pens weren't even allowed inside (I wanted to write down the set list. Although I usually remember these things anyway), so I had already disposed of that in my car (and my friend's camera) as we got to the first corner.
At last we're in. Some okay looking shirts, but they're a ridiculous $25 a piece. I'll make my own "Man Machine" shirt down at Mailboxes, Etc. for $15, thank you.
We go in and the place is packed. The balconies are filled with VIP guests (though I don't know what that entails) and there are K-ROQ banners all over the place. Damn me for being short because I'm already noticing that EVERYONE here is taller than me. Right off the bat a group of older guys, who are obviously a bit tipsy, give me a look and a smile. "MAN MACHINE!!!! DIE MENSCH MESCHINE!!!!". They recognize my garb and approve, giving me the thumbs up sign. My friend and I get a comfy place to the left of the stage, about 30 feet from the stage. It will have to do.
Kraftwerk were expected to go on at 8, but it's 8:15 and we're still staring at our watches. Hmmmm. I just hope I get my two hours worth, like they advertised on The Palladium's phone mail. The audience is getting increasingly restless, every few minutes starting to hoot, holler and clap, getting the whole crowd to join in. More people are arriving too, which means the once vacant space behind me is filling up, and we're squishing up a bit towards the front.
8:25. Still nothing. I'm starting to pick my fingers, I'm so anxious.
All of a sudden, some people start cheering, seemingly for no reason. Then my friend starts telling me that he can hear music far off in the distance. I strain very hard and can start to hear some assorted electronic blips and bleeps coming from behind the curtains...a very rapid, random set of electronic noises. “I love those primitive sequencers” I say. The melange of sound grows gradually louder and louder over the next few minutes, and the crowd is getting increasingly restless.
A couple of guys in front of me are laughing pretty hard, commenting that the electronic melange reminds them of the Texas Instruments toy Speak ‘N’ Spell. “Yeah, remember that s***?” says one of them, as he starts emulating the blips and bleeps. Kraftwerk used sounds from the Speak ‘N’ Spell on their album “Computer World”, and hearing those sounds brings back a flood of nostalgia to anyone that ever owned one.
I start to utter a non-sequitur to my friend. "I hope they'll play 'Numbers'" I say. "That's a funky one". No sooner have I said that then the lights finally dim down and a robotic voice introduces the band “all the way from the Deutschland”. This immediately launces into the familiar robotic "EINZ, ZWEI, DREI, VIER, FUENF, SECHS, SIEBEN, ACHT..." repeated over and over from the stage area: a signal that “Numbers” is first up. The crowd goes absolutely hysterical.
The curtain opens up and the guys are in black leather flight suits, just like old times. I notice Karl Bartos and Wolfgang Fluer are absent, their places taken by two friends/session musicians. But the real brains behind the project...Ralf Huetter and Florian Schneider...are at either end of the half circle facing the audience. The guys are at miniature little stands with assorted knobs, keyboards and switches, and the stage appears to be akin to the bridge on Star Trek. Ralf is the only one with a headset mic on. Florian is now completely bald, and looks a bit like Jean-Luc Piccard. There are four large screens at the rear of the stage, and for this piece--"Numbers"--we see countless numbers flying around, spinning, dancing, etc. Occasionally we see the foreign words they speak on the screens as well. It's like a Brave New World version of Sesame Street and I love it!
The guys sound great. They're retaining the original primitive sound of the recording but with a little added something. It's stronger, more solid. Or maybe it's just because they're in concert. The guys barely move and Ralf especially maintains a deadpan expression. "Numbers" segues smoothly into "Computer World" (as it does on the album of the same name, except this one’s part 1), a fitting opener to the show, and the crowd goes bananas once again. The screens now show all sorts of twisting, turning views of animated microchips. "Interpol and Deutsche Bank/FBI and Scotland Yard". Ralf's amended the words with references to "KGB", “CIA” and other organizations world wide.
Someone a couple yards away from me to the left is holding up a very old Kraftwerk LP. It appears to be their very first, with a primitive picture of Ralf and Florian on the back. Where on earth did they find that?
The cool thing is that everybody in the audience is moving. No moshing or anything of that sort, but nearly everyone is dancing quietly by themselves...some more spastically than others. It's difficult not to be entranced by this type of show...the spirit and the mood intoxicates you. I look around the perimeter of the room and notice that even people in the balconies are moving around to the music.
As "Computer World" ends we go into "Home Computer", whose minimal lyrics are still perceptive and eerie. "I program my home computer/Beam myself into the future". The Middle Eastern sounding synth lines weave in and out of each other effortlessly. Great performance. And the random noise breakdowns are equally impressive.
That segment of the concert ends and the crowd loves it. Next, we see the familiar quartet of animated bicyclists on the screens and know it's time for the rare "Tour De France"...one of the few Kraftwerk songs I don't own. It's a great song too, and in the background we see black and white footage from the actual Tour de France. The song is quite beautiful, and was used in the old film "Breakin'", but a cover was substituted on the CD version. This original version is only available as an import single.
Then it's into a surprise: "The Man Machine", the closer for the album of the same name. Lots of red and black images abound in the background, as the words appear on the screens (both in german and, later on, english). Squares dance around and break apart in time to the music, creating a neat effect. Again, the performance is flawless.
I think I'm the only one who recognizes the gentle "Airwaves"...a rare one from the "Radioactivity" album. Ralf's playing it unaccompanied, in the dark, minus percussion and all else. It's almost like an afterthought or an improv, but the performance is too good to be an improv. I keep expecting the percussion part to enter, but it doesn't. Too bad I don't know the lyrics. They're all in German.
Next up is a bright (but unfortunately, somewhat tiresome) burst of techno. It's a new track, one I've never heard before. It's a sad fact that when groups get old enough, they start sounding like the groups they influenced. I listen and wonder if some of the newer fans here understand that it's Kraftwerk that created this type of style in the first place. To say "look at these old guys trying to do techno" would be a grievous error.
After this, we hear the familiar car door slam and engine starting up, a sign that “Autobahn” is coming. Many already recognize it and begin cheering. Speed is picked up once again, as the familiar robotic chorus chimes in. The bland, archaic blue and white Autobahn logos are on the screens (the same ones that are sported on shirts in the lobby) which then give way to the actual cover of the album. It's a near letter perfect performance, sounding much like "The Mix" version. All sorts of interesting footage from the autobahn appears on the screens, and it's particularly amusing to hear the simulated car horns and doppler-laden engines roaring when matched to some clever footage. We see the animated interior of the car as we approach the line about turning the radio on, and I can't contain myself waiting for the symphony of robotic voices. This part is always very beautiful to me, and tonight's performance is no different. Those voices always kill me.
Up next is "The Model", the piece I've been waiting for the most. It sounds really good, a little more modern than the original. A bit more beefy, but the percussion is still VERY minimal, not techno-ized like some of their other classics. They retain the exact same arrangement and don't stray from it a bit, aside for some blips and bleeps buried beneath the prevalent synths. Kitschy footage of 1950's models appears in the background and goes great with the song.
Next comes what is arguably the finest performance of the night (of the first set, that is. We were in store for some surprises later on). The familiar gravelly robotic voice comes on and narrates a few lines (which appear on the screen) about nuclear radiation and plutonium. This is Kraftwerk's little public service announcement, and it's very effective. There's some little factoid about how a particular power plant (whose name escapes me) emits more radiation in a year than Chernobyl does in 4.5 years. This is very scary, especially coming from this eerie, gravelly, lifeless robot voice. Then we hear the telegraph type sounds of the intro to "Radiactivity" and we're on our way. It's "The Mix" version once again, and in this case that pleases me, as I've always viewed this "Mix" version better than the original. It isn't until tonight that I understand the robotic spoken words of the opening. They're projected onto the screens: "TSCHERNOBYL...HARRISBURG...SELLAFIELD...HIROSHIMA". They're all locations of power plants or nuclear catastrophes. They’re pronounced so strange that I've never been able to make them out. (CHER-NO-BEE-UHL...HAY-REES-BURRRRRRR-GOO). Then we see the all too familiar radioactive symbols and we're heading into the song. The song moves along briskly, and again, it's letter perfect. The assorted images of atoms, radioactive signs and what appear to be campy 50's instructional films in the background make the song more eerie than ever. What is particularly eerie about this performance is how many are dancing around wildly while the words “STOP RADIOACTIVITY” are both sung and projected onto the screens. All this wild abandon while animated atoms bounce into one another and explode. Terribly strange...terribly effective. I am compelled to stop dancing just to watch this multimedia spectacle for a few minutes.
This performance is exactly what I want from Kraftwerk...gloom and doom technocracy and fearful, perceptive lyrics of the devolving world around us. We are, after all, the man-machines.
After that high point, we hear the opening synth-string chords of "Trans Europe Express", another crowd favorite. They've got all kinds of interesting footage of T.E.E. behind them. The backbeat is just as strong and funky as ever, and it's a nice change of pace from the mostly techno-laden drum beats we've had all night. The last chords belt out and the translucent blue curtains start to close. The crowd goes absolutely wild once again, resuming their synchronized clapping that they did before the show. We're not going to let then get away without an encore.
I keep thinking 'I wonder if these guys can believe how well-received they are after 30 years'. This is fantastic.
A few minutes later the curtains open up, and the guys are standing at the edge of the stage holding mini-synths, much like they did in the old video for "Pocket Calculator". And wouldn't you know, it's exactly what they jump into! We hear the tooty little chords at the beginning, signalling that it's "The Mix" version. Pity, but it's still a strong performance. The crowd's really loving it too, as this is arguably their most famous song. Everyone in the audience is singing along with Ralf. Florian's having a ball, as his synth controls the little Speak and Spell blips and bleeps. Each time he strikes a key he exaggerates it for the benefit of the crowd. He's playing with us now. For the first time in the evening, Florian breaks out of character and smiles at the audience. Ralf's having fun too, moving around a bit more and smiling. We reach the end of the song and the curtains shut once again. The crowd erupts.
I can't believe these guys are in their 50's.
A great encore and a great show! They played everything I wanted to hear! Oh, wait. It's not over yet!
After another few minutes of the crowd going hysterical, we hear groaning synths from behind the curtains, signalling the beginning of "The Robots". Finally, the curtains open up again to reveal...absolutely no one on the stage! The screens are going wild though, with lots of red and black designs and finally the images of the famous Kraftwerk robots, jerking around and reaching out their metallic arms, helplessly. The performance is great, again taking the “Mix” version as their guide. The song seems to be over as the words "rabotnik" appear on the back screens. But suddenly, the screens begin to lower. What the? The music picks up again, and spotlights reveal behind the screens the robots themselves! The audience loves it, as the robots begin to twitch and move about in the strobe lights. The robots dance for a solid couple of minutes until the song reaches its end. INCREDIBLE!
Did I mention there's more?
I keep thinking to myself 'there's no way they're going to be able to top that. How can you top the robots on stage?'. Well, I was wrong. The stage is immediately blacklit and the guys walk out wearing these futuristic glasses with neon rims and outrageous suits with neon-green stripes all over them...they look like they just stepped off the set of "Tron". This is awesome! They launch into another new song, this one slightly better and more melodic than the other new piece. This one seems to retain the audience's attention alot more too.
Then we hear the old "BOING! Boom TSCHAK!" voices start up and see those words in little cartoon bubble letters on the screens. The audience knows it's time for "Music Non-Stop". It's an incredible performance, with the screens showing a myriad of fantastic images from the original video (these images can be found inside the "Electric Cafe" sleeve as well): we see a robotic quartet made up solely of lines moving back and forth at their instruments. Then we see virtual faces of Ralf and Florian mouthing the words "music non-stop" along with the music. We even see the robot mannequin heads with lines drawn all over them (they seem to be the models for the virtual graphics). This is perhaps the most futuristic performance of the night, and the melange of audio and visual is perfect. And one by one, over the course of several minutes, each member exits the stage (Florian commencing) until Ralf is left all by himself. He turns around and fiddles with some things behind him and walks off stage, as the curtains close. The music is still going, winding down, yet the house lights come up, signalling that this is indeed the last encore. I tell my friend "this must be their equivalent of facing their guitars against their amps and exiting the stage", thinking back to when I saw Superdrag do that--amid layers of feedback--after a show a few years ago. The crowd erupts for the last time, as the music ends and only two voices remain. The two voices take turns: the normal male "music...non-stop" voice and the gruff, low, robotic "moo-ZEEK...nohn stohp". These voices reverberate throughout the hall, creating a very eerie, effective end to the show. The voices continue on for several minutes as everyone starts filing out the doors. My friend and I stick around for a while to beat the rush and the voices keep going and going. What an ending.
As we exit, yet another guy points me out to a friend. "Turn around" he asks me. I turn around and the guy gives a thumbs up. He says something along the lines of "very stylin'" and I say thank you. Speaking of cool clothes, I saw three people wearing Gary Numan "Exile" tour t-shirts (a tour I would have killed to see. He played in LA in May and I didn't hear about it! Agggggggh!), one guy in a Devo shirt and another guy in a full on white tyvek jump-suit, much like the old suits Devo wore. AH!!! THESE ARE MY PEOPLE!!!
To re-cap, the set list (to the best of my memory):
Tour De France
The Man Machine
(New song #1)
Trans Europe Express
(New song #2)
What a great band, and a fantastic show. I do stress the word "show", as this was the most intensive multimedia presentation I'd ever seen. AND THREE ENCORES! I'm so glad I got to see these guys in this rare performance. My verdict is that they definitely still "have it" after all these years!
© 1998 Crapple Records, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced without the expressed written consent of Crapple Records, Inc.
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