Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Kraftwerk


10th June 2017

Usher Hall, Edinburgh

I can clearly recall hearing the single Autobahn on the radio for the first time back in 1975; I think on Fluff Freeman's chart show.   And although it certainly sounded totally unlike anything I had heard before, (with the possible exception of the Dr Who theme) it did not really spark much curiosity in my teen-aged self.  'twas just some synthesizer-driven novelty like Son of My Father, I felt.

But it was my heavy-metal loving mate D who somehow picked up on the fact there was something rather special going on; him purchasing the Autobahn album with it's side-long version of the title track, and playing it at us whenever we visited.  Pleasant enough I felt it was, after a few exposures, but not really of substance enough to maintain the involvement of this Yes obsessed boy.

I pretty much parked Kraftwerk at this point...until the The Model some six years later sparked a bit of retrospective digging.  Pleasing dance-driven stuff abounded now, but a real dearth of jangly guitars (my drug of choice in the early 1980s), led to a loss of interest once more after encountering the patchy Computer World album.

So, an element of box-ticking perhaps going on here – rather urgently on my part, after noting the present Kraftwerk line-up now housed only one original member: Ralf Hutter – and he being a rather less than sprightly 70 years young.

This being the 3D Tour, upon entry to the auditorium, we were all presented with cheapo 3D glasses to view the projected images through.  Any thoughts that we were going to witness Avatar level CGI were swiftly dispelled as the first backdrop images arrived.  If the Tron visual effects had been produced on an Atari ST, this is what they may have looked like.  The footage accompanying Autobahn resembled a Mr Benn episode coloured in by a child with an extremely limited palette at their disposal.  But given this tour was a retrospective of sorts, perhaps the retro imagery was entirely apposite.

No music composed after 1986 was performed, I noted.  Leading me to suspect the Kraftwerk creative juices had ran dry around the same time Diego Maradona was punching in that goal in Mexico  i.e. a LONG time ago.



Ralf Hutter - Edinburgh 2017


The Man Machine

Spacelab

Ralf Hutter - Edinburgh 2017

Autobahn

Autobahn

Airwaves

Kraftwerk - Edinburgh 2017

The lengthy set – just over two hours - saw selections from seven of the band's various albums presented in chunks, although not in anything resembling chronological order.  Each band member performed from behind small identical podiums; altars really.  Did they have musical keyboards up there?  Or a computer keyboard, or even a mixing desk type arrangement with knobs to twiddle or sliders to slide?  Who knew?  A undoubted consequence of the set-up was that we had no way of knowing who was playing what – if “playing” is quite the correct word in the context of a Kraftwerk concert. 

Following a surprisingly warm reception from the Edinburgh crowd (I don't know why, but I expected the band would be greeted with mere polite applause), Ralf and his mates opened the show with a selection of tunes from the 1981 album Computer World.  A pretty low key start I felt.  I have never felt this to be a particularity strong collection, and nowt I heard this evening made me think otherwise.

Spacelab from The Man Machine album however, was better, complete with a 3D Spacelab poking its way so far out into out the audience (or at least appearing to), that clots around me reached up as if trying to touch it.  We also go to see some pleasingly cheesy footage of a flying saucer scooting past Edinburgh Castle, before coming to rest outside the Usher Hall. 

The band really got into their (ahem) groove after this one, with the “other” big hit The Model followed up with one of my faves: the beautifully understated Neon Lights.  A subsequent lengthy drive along the Autobahn kept up the quality control.

A chunk of Radio-Activity was next – by some way my favorite Kraftwerk album - which had me grinning with delight.  Radio Waves reminding me, as it did back in the day, that these Kraftwerk lads I am sure had kept a discrete eye on what Edgar Froese and his Tangerine-coloured buddies were up to in the mid 70s.  I was bit disappointed this particular section did not conclude with the wonderfully titled Ohm Sweet Ohm.  

And whilst I am at it; where was Showroom Dummies and Kometenmelodie 2?  But, these omissions notwithstanding, this portion certainly, for me anyway represented the high water mark of the gig.


Ralf Hutter

Falk Grieffenhagen

Henning Schmitz

Fritz Hilpert

Trans Europe Express.


Electric Cafe was a new one to me – I had never bothered with that Techno Pop album – and whether it was due to my unfamiliarity with this song, or whether it is just not a good tune, or whether my head had reached its techno pop saturation point, I am unsure.  (I rather feel the latter).  But I certainly noted my concentration beginning to wander from here on in.

The Tour De France medley appeared to last about as long as the race itself, and I found myself taking more interest in the vintage footage of the race being shown onscreen,  than on the music itself which I just sort of filtered out.

And much of the rest of the gig had me thinking about home and bed, I have to say; the final medley being a bit of a chore to sit through.

The exception was the delightfully bonkers Robots interlude, wherein our Teutonic hosts replaced themselves with electronic replicas.  Replicas which somehow, with arms flailing around, managed to perform the track The Robots perfectly.  The joke here being, of course, that the whole gig could have been performed by these mannequins, with the mostly I suspect pre-programmed music controlled by the band from the comfort of their respective homes back in Germany.

I did wonder just how old these dummies were.  For the one intended to represent Ralf Hutter did look a remarkably youthful chap.  And I could swear another was of the 10 years departed Florian Schneider.

Although I undoubtedly wearied a touch during the last half-hour of the show, there were  elements of the audience clearly having a whale of a time throughout.  I had been fortunate enough to pick up a ticket on the night for face value in the expensive seats.  But on numerous occasions during the evening, oddly disembodied waves of enthusiastic whooping and clapping could be heard spreading forward from way behind us.

Clearly those bods in the cheap seats were the real fans. 

So: Seminal, Groundbreaking, Innovative?  Yes, Kraftwerk certainly are (or were, really) all of those things once.  Yet, so were Neu!, Can and Faust.  But what the last three never managed was to write quality pop songs.  And that is Kraftwerk's real achievement.

And yet I would hazard they have not written a truly memorable tune in thirty years.  Talk about living off your legacy.


This was a Space Invader being huckled off stage.

Kraftwerk - Edinburgh 2017

The Robots

The Robots

The Robots

A youthful Ralf Hutter

Boing...

...Boom...

...and (ermm) Tschak

The notes all look rather fuzzy on my pic - this being a consequence
of the 3D imagery used.
It was actually rather impressive, having
all these crotchet and quavers floating towards and over you. 

Musique Non Stop




Set list

Numbers
Computer World
It's More Fun to Compute
Home Computer
Spacelab
The Model
Neon Lights
Autobahn
Airwaves
Intermission (the name of a song...not an interval in the show)
News
Geiger Counter
Radioactivity
Electric Cafe
Tour De France / Etape 1 / Chrono / Etape 2
Trans Europe Express
Metal on Metal
Azbug

Encores
The Robots

Aero Dynamik
Planet of Visions
Boom Boom Tschak / Techno Pop / Musique Non Stop.