entourage had made it to Norwich, as the numerous large vehicles in
the car park and the faint sounds of 'The Robots', 'Numbers' and 'Computer
World' which were being soundchecked, audible to the queue now gathering
outside, testified to.
Was it really to happen, I wondered? Less than two and a half weeks
previously was when I had learned of the possibility of these warm-up
gigs that were to take place and it seemed incredible that having waited
ten years before seeing them live for the first time last year I would
now be seeing them again, less than a year after their last UK shows.
Yes, it was to happen! As the doors were eventually opened, the crowd
made their way inside. The space at the very front of the stage was
swiftly annexed by the keenest fans and as ever, the black drapes masked
the stage. At the back, a small merchandise stall was set up, selling
three different designs of T-shirt, altered from last years designs.
some time, the familiar electronic bleeps that Kraftwerk have employed
since the 1981 tours as some kind of subtle hint that the show's on
its way were becoming audible; all part of the ritual...
Then, the electronic voice announces the return of 'Die Mensch Maschine...
Kraftwerk' and following that the first note of 'The Robots' is heard
as the drapes are removed and it becomes obvious that 'Kling Klang'
has made it from Düsseldorf once more, though in a different configuration
to previous; all four members will be standing face-on to the crowd
and will be very near, judging by how close 'Kling Klang' is.
But first, 'The Robots'. Like last year, the four, large size video
screens lower to reveal the bands robotic doppelgangers, waiting to
engage in their electronic ballet dance, though there were changes this
year, most notably the word ROBOTNIK projected throughout their 'dance'.
Unlike some of the dates on last year's European tour, the necessary
change has been made so that the newest member of Kraftwerk, Henning
Schmitz (having replaced Fernando Abrantes) is represented in this robotic
'swan lake'! The Robots performed faultlessly tonight.
As 'The Robots' fades out and the video screens return, the familiar,
hypnotic 'eins, zwei, drei, vier' count of 'Numbers' commences and the
insistent beat of the song comes to life, followed by the band entering
the stage one by one to take up their places at their stations.
Once again, it's spectacular stuff, the familiar rhythm blending with
the number count, synchronising with the video backdrops perfectly,
then merging into the melody of 'Computer World' to a large cheer as
ever. These two songs really show Kraftwerk at their finest, the melodies,
sounds and voices of 'Computer World' delivered faultlessly. The more
I hear them, the more I wish that they had been included on 'The Mix'.
In particular, 'Computer World' benefited from some very nice little
rhythmical pauses now present. As the cheers subside, Ralf counts in
'The Model', still very similar to its recorded form, other than for
the heavy rhythmical backing now employed. Ralf is in good form tonight,
the vocals are excellent. In the background, the four video screens
parade the black and white archive films of catwalkers from a glamorous,
bygone age, vamping it up. The lighting is different this year though,
with clear, crisp white light illuminating the stage, showing the group
off to full potential and harmonising with the screens perfectly. This
effect was first seen on last years European tour.
the left of the stage we have Ralf Hütter, Henning Schmitz, Fritz
Hilpert and, of course, Florian Schneider. As ever, the lighting on
stage is subdued, much of it coming from the video screens. It's all
impressive stuff. Between songs the stage is in near darkness, save
for the occasional camera flash.
Next up, the red white and blue sleeve design for 'Tour De France'
flickers onto the screens as a new, slow intro to the song unfurls,
to the delight of the crowd. It's a nice start to the song, first heard
on the European tour late last year. As the song progresses the ever
present black and white archives are plundered once more, on a cycling
theme this time contrasted with the bright colours that now illuminate
the stage. It's an excellent version of one Kraftwerk's finest songs.
same comment can hardly be reserved for what follows. 'Autobahn' begins
well enough, as the blue fluorescent tubes activate and merge with the
blue and white road signs, silhouetting each Kraftwerk member against
their video screen. As the rhythm kicks into life things begin to go
awry; the synths are way out of tune with each other and the wrong sounds
seem to be triggered at the wrong time. Whether they are experimenting
or not is unclear but the look on Ralf's face as he stares at Florian
suggests that he's not very amused either way! Things come together
but go amiss later on in the song once more. There are some differences
with the video backdrops for this song, in comparison to last year;
at one point video's 1 and 3 show one sequence of film while video's
2 and 4 show something different; it's an interesting effect which could
be tried out more often perhaps?
There's a good atmosphere tonight between band and crowd. Often you
won't get any between song comments from Ralf all night. Various comments
from members of the audience provoke laughter from the rest. In particular,
before the band launch into 'Radioactivity' there are numerous shouts
offering to buy any spare tickets that the band may have for the 'Stop
Sellafield' gig. As someone shouts "I'll meet you outside" it's met
with Ralf's reply of "I'll walk in through the back entrance"!
that, 'Radioactivity' commences, with a different start from last year,
just the electronic voice chewing the syllables of each word; 'TSCHERN-O-BEEL'
- 'HARR-EES-BURG' - 'SELL-A-FE-ILD' - 'HEE-RO-SHEE-MA', devoid of the
music until the 'morse code' signals start. Good stuff! The stage lights
now emit a purple glow as the videos display the various graphics chosen
to illustrate the song, with some new additions to re-inforce the lyrics;
'CHAIN REACTION' and 'CONTAMINATED POPULATION'. But that's not all!
As Florian and Fritz turn round to face the audience they're alight!
Small LEDs fitted onto their ties pulse on and off in a faint red glow.
As the song ends, more shouts in hope of free tickets are to be heard,
as well as "Like the tie Florian"! And with that 'Trans-Europe Express'
commences and the railway tracks spin round dizzily in the background.
They like their archive films, don't they. The start is different tonight
though, with the electronic TRANS-EUROPE-EXPRESS words only, before
Fritz presses the magic button and the rest of the music commences.
I remember that during last years tour, Fritz would keep an eye on the
video screens during 'Metal On Metal' to synchronise the images on screen
to his electronic percussion; not tonight though. Again it's another
fine rendition of one of Kraftwerk's finest songs, though I'm puzzled
at the absence of David Bowie and Iggy Pop from the TEE nowadays.
darkness between songs and now the shouts are for various Kraftwerk
oldies; 'Neon Lights'! 'Hall of Mirrors'! 'Vom Himmel
"You know all the songs", deadpans Ralf.
Instead of these we get 'Music Non Stop'. This song is without a doubt
one of the nightly improvisation sessions for the band (along with 'Pocket
Calculator') as it never seems to be the same two nights running! Sadly,
they seem to have dropped the spooky keyboard piece that creeps in towards
the end, that was present from last years tours, but otherwise it's
a good version, though much shorter than usual. In the background, excerpts
from the promo video are displayed and I'm glad to see the little bit
where the three dimensional musical notes appear to spill over from
video screen to video screen is still present; a personal favourite.
Like last year, the band exit the stage one by one, each receiving a
cheer as they depart; Florian first followed by Fritz, then Henning.
As Ralf removes his headset/mic. the music continues as the cheers multiply
and once more the black drapes return to swathe the stage; darkness
The house lights don't come on, so it's pretty certain that they'll
be back on for more and indeed they are, launching into 'Home Computer'
as the curtains part to reveal the dimly lit stage. I have to say that
this song has benefited from the more forceful backbeat (a la 'Numbers')
now employed. Also, this is one of my favourites for the video backdrops;
all those coloured computer components zooming around. Things aren't
quite right though; some kind of high pitched electronic whine can be
heard, which sends Florian into a spell of swapping leads and wires
about. As the song continues, Ralf lapses into a verse of 'Heimcomputer'.
Staying in place, the band next perform 'Computer Love'; another colourful
display courtesy of the video screens; spectrum analyser's agogo in
full colour. It's one of the few songs where Fritz is equipped with
drum sticks to add little flourishes of electronic percussion. The song
remains pretty well faithful to the version presented on 'The Mix' and
as the song comes to a halt the curtains close once more...
After what seems like ages, the opening melody of 'Pocket Calculator'
can be heard from behind the drapes along with some impatient bleeps...
and then the four Kraftwerker's are there, only feet away, equipped
with their mini-keyboards/sequencers, with Ralf treating us to some
updated hybrid of the hand jive when not singing the words! Always a
highlight of a Kraftwerk concert is this song and tonight is no exception.
Alas, for those at the very front, the band don't pass round the keyboards
to the audience tonight, though Ralf does enquire to the audience, "Do
they have music courses at the university?" And as the music continues,
the curtains slowly close, for the last time tonight ... and with some
final keyboard 'splurges' the music is over. Despite the roar of the
crowd, the house lights come on, the show is over.