'1976 Revisited' features some observations on the mysterious 1976 live concerts.
Kraftwerk's 1981 world tour and 1991 UK and European tours are well documented in most respects; a myriad of live tapes/LPs/CDs/videos abound from these tours, principally due to the technological revolution which has allowed professional quality tape recorders to fit in the palm of your hand and video cameras reduced to pocket size. The period before 1981 is a little more vague; live tapes are available of some gigs but videos are seemingly non-existent. (No surprise.) The various tours from 1975 seem to be the most obviously represented and well documented. However, the bands live gigs from the latter part of 1976 are less well known but of immense interest due to the material they played and the instrumentation employed...
What's so interesting about the gigs from the end of 1976? Well, lets begin with a recap of the bands 1975 outings. For the previous years gigs, the band pretty well stuck to a standard selection of songs, mainly from the 'Autobahn', 'Ralf and Florian' and 'Kraftwerk' LPs, with the occasional little oddity (such as the way in which 'Mitternacht' segues with a very embryonic 'Showroom Dummies' tune and also the music which is introduced as 'Kling Klang' and starts off with the bells and chimes from the studio recording of 'Kling Klang' but is most definitely not that song). The odd thing about this selection of tracks is that none of the songs from 'Radio-Activity' were played; odd, because that was of course the record the band were recordings at the time. By the time of the UK tour in September 1975 a poster plugging the forthcoming LP was on display at the concerts; even stranger then that the band chose not to preview the material live.
Now then, judging by the live reviews and such that I have read, the late 1976 concerts were in marked contrast to this. Not only were the songs from the latest LP, such as 'Radio-Activity' and 'Airwaves' aired in their live form but there was also previously unreleased material previewed; namely 'Trans-Europe Express', 'Europe Endless' and 'Showroom Dummies'. Subsequent tours have not included live versions of 'Europe Endless' nor 'Airwaves', so these gigs would appear to be the only time Kraftwerk performed them live. In addition, early versions of 'Trans-Europe Express' and 'Showroom Dummies' would be interesting listening; totally different from the eventual LP versions and who knows what other material from 'Radio-Activity' was aired?
As if this were not reason enough for these gigs to be of marked interest, there is another curio. In numerous music paper and radio interviews Ralf Hütter has talked of one of Kraftwerk's more original musical instruments; an electronic percussion device triggered by body movements. These gigs appear to be the only time that these much spoken of instruments have been used in public, as the live reviews certainly make reference to Wolfgang and Karl operating these photo-electric triggered instruments.
In the same manner as for the 1975 gigs, slides were displayed on a backdrop throughout the bands performance. Unlike the later tours, these were static slide images, not animated films/videos. Some interesting images appear to have been on display; for 'Europe Endless' a picture of the band themselves (the classic 'round the table' promo pic) was projected; its significance to the song is imponderable! The neon-light name boxes that are a trademark of the classic Hütter/Schneider/Flür/Bartos era of Kraftwerk were also on display as well as the floor level multicoloured strip light panels which are still part of the Kraftwerk stage set to this day.
Kraftwerk appear to have played at three venues in the UK and also on the continent during this period. The three UK gigs were at the following venues; Lanchester Polytechnic, Coventry (Friday 8th October), Sheffield University (Saturday 9th October) and London Roundhouse (Sunday 10th October). I cannot confirm this 100%, but I feel that the 'Radio-Activity' 7" single must have been re-released to coincide with these gigs. On the original promo single that I have for this 7" it gives a release date of 13.2.76. A music paper advert, obviously from much later in the year, announces the dates of the three gigs as well as plugging the 'latest single'; 'Radio-Activity'.
So far, live tapes of any of these gigs do not appear to have surfaced to the mainstream. Bearing in mind the unique qualities of these performances, it would be a shame if this remains the case - live versions of early period renditions of 'Radio-Activity' and 'Trans-Europe Express' era material would be quite something to hear these days. Perhaps Kraftwerk themselves have recordings.. It is obvious that they are quite precious of their past output, but perhaps the release of an archive concert would be possible? The musical climate nowadays, with a pronounced retrospective angle, has witnessed a widespread reappraisal of archive recordings. Look at New Order for instance; it's unlikely, bearing in mind their stance, that they would ever release a live LP by themselves. But, due to the BBC 'in concert' series of releases, there has been a live LP issued. I admit, it's unlikely that we shall see such a release (a live LP, in general) from Kraftwerk '70s era concert and at last discard poor quality tapes. Surely it would not blight Kraftwerk's aims too much to put out such an archive release? It is obvious to fans that the band are not too keen on their early records anymore, often dismissing them as from 'another period/time'. Still, there are many who still care for those records and they're not going to go away!
This article has been put together mainly from info gained from live reviews in Sounds and NME, from October 1976. Original version of this article by Paul Wilkinson. This version by Ian Calder, July 1993.
UPDATE (from Aktivität 5 - December 1993)
Aktivität 4's article on the 1976 tour was a little vague about what tracks the band might have played at those concerts. In addition to the UK gigs in October of that year, it is known that they also performed in France too, in September. From a live review of the concert the songs the band played would appear to have been thus; 'Europe Endless', 'Radio-Activity', 'Airwaves', 'Ohm Sweet Ohm', 'Trans-Europe Express', 'Tongebirge', 'Les Mannequins'. No mention is made of 'Kometenmelodie' in the French review, though in one of the UK reviews it is stated that this is what the show opened with, so it may have been an omission on the reviewers part.
Interestingly the French review refers to the song 'Airwaves' as having been played, whereas the UK one claims that it was 'Antenna' - the UK review was pretty duff. Somehow, methinks the UK journalist was none too big a Kraftwerk fan and trivialities like the correct song title may have been lost on him! (NB; I can confirm that it was definitely 'Airwaves and *not* 'Antenna' that was played at the UK show as reviewed - IC)
> Further reading:
Updated: 16 : 5 : 2010