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'Italy 1990' looks at what I have managed to find out about the 1990 'secret' tour of Italy, by IC
Photos supplied by Emilio Giaretta, Massimo Farina, Luca Morandi (Click on any of the live photos to see them in a new page at a larger size.)
From Aktivität 5 - December 1993

The background...

Kraftwerk's secret tour of Italy in February 1990 has become one of the many intriguing episodes that has enriched the band's history. The first time that the hand had played live, that we know of, since the 1981 world tour. The last time that Karl Bartos was to share the stage with the band.

Allegedly, this was a very secret operation; the bands record company were not told of this little tour and neither it seems were the press. It appears on the surface to have been a test of the material that they had been recording for 'The Mix', eventually to be issued a year and a quarter later.

What actually happened then? Well, it appears that the band played in the following cities.

  • BOLOGNA, Teatro Tivoli 7.2.90
  • PADOVA Discoteca Extra Extra 8.2.90
  • GRASSINA (FLORENCE) Casa Del Popolo 9.2.90
  • GENOVA Psycho Club 11.2.90

The songs that they performed were exactly the same as in the 1991 tours, though the actual versions were very, very different. The order in which the songs were performed also seems to have varied slightly from night to night too, though not by too much. In general, quite similar to 1991 as well.

These gigs also featured a different Kraftwerk line-up; Ralf Hütter, Florian Schneider, Karl Bartos and also a new addition; Fritz Hilpert, taking the place of the now departed Wolfgong Flür. These concerts were to be the last time that Karl Bartos performed live with Kraftwerk, departing some time afterwards, in August 1990. As usual, judging by photo's and suchlike, the bands clothing was black. While Ralf end Fritz favoured the familiar outfit of black shirt, tie and trousers, as on the 1991 UK tour, Florian and Karl are also to be seen sporting short jackets. I guess that Italy can also be cold in February!

After the fact, what can be drawn from these gigs then? Some of the versions are obviously derivative of 'The Mix'. Yet others, are certainly quite different and indicate that there may have been significant amendments made to the songs in the period between these gigs and the eventual release of 'The Mix' and the subsequent tours.

Having had the chance to hear recordings of the four different concerts I was quite surprised at just how much improvisation appeared to be going on too. A few of the tracks definitely seemed 'formless', changing totally from one night to the next. 'Home Computer' in particular seems particularly hit-or-miss from these gigs.

Another thing that struck me was how many mistakes there were! Loads of little mistakes; missing notes, missing cues, sounds triggered at the wrong time, slack rhythms, bum notes - the works! Very different from the more polished 1991 performances. There really is a lot of differences between this tour and 1991.

Many fans have heard/seen the Bologna gig as it has been released on 'The Return Of The Mensch Maschine' and 'Save Your Software' bootleg vinyl LPs and also, in poorer quality, on the 'Rimini Rimini' bootleg CD. (The titling of this as Rimini seems to have been a ploy on the bootleggers part to give the impression that it was another gig on this secret tour; it is definitely the Bologna gig featured on the CD. There is also an audience-shot bootleg video for the Bologna gig, though incomplete.

The Music...

The songs that the band performed were the same as heard on the 1991 UK and European tours.

'Numbers' - more like the 1981 live version. Same type of 'traditional' vocoded vocals as per 1981 (as opposed to the more computer-generated ones of 'The Mix' version). Quite long in duration, certainly far longer than the original recorded version. Lots of percussion-only at the start. The highly memorable computerised voice of 'The Mix' version counting 'eins, zwei, drei, vier' is not here. Obviously a later addition...

'Computer World' - rhythm very much a continuation of the previous 'Numbers'. Very different from both the 1991 version and the 1981 version. If anything, it has similarities with 'Computer World 2', the lead keyboard line seen to be what propels this version of the song. Both the 1981 and 1991 versions have far more insistent basslines. The bassline to this version is quite minimal, just like the lead melody, but simplified and in a lower key. It is certainly a lot less rhythmic than the somewhat more polished 1991 live version.

'Home Computer' - many similarities with 'The Mix' version but far more experimental with the sounds and effects. Seems in many ways quite formless, as if it is almost a live jam...

'Tour De France' - this sounds very similar to that which was performed in 1991.

'The Model' - again, very similar to the familiar 1991 version.

'Computer Love' - obviously derived from 'The Mix' arrangement. Must have been quite something to have heard this for the first time at one of these Italian gigs as it sounds like a brand new song to begin with, before the familiar melody line is introduced. The first portion of the song is far longer than the eventual 'Mix' version. Also, it appears more up-tempo; the main beat of the song seems more straightforward and there is a different rhythm to the bassline. I think I prefer this version actually!

'Autobahn' - derivative once more of 'The Mix' but by no means identical.

'Radioactivity' - like 'Numbers', the robot voice heard on the 1991 versions is missing. Ergo, no 'Tschernobyl, Harrisburg, Sellafield, Hiroshima'. Otherwise, many similarities with the up-tempo 1991 interpretation. Not quite the same though. One of the songs that obviously benefited from the extra work done before 'The Mix' was finally released.

'Trans-Europe Express' - this sounds quite different to 'The Mix' version, though there are many similarities with the sounds that are used and suchlike. It is faster, in the vein of the 1981 live version. The metallic rhythm interlude is quite different and is very 'live' this definitely isn't pre-prograrnmed. The doppler-effect train sounds that make 'Abzug' sound so eerie on 'The Mix' are in there somewhere - though not in such a convincing manner. In all, this is another track which improved greatly between this incarnation and 'The Mix' version

'Pocket Calculator' - as ever, something different every night. It is far more similar to the 1981 live version than the more house-flavoured 1991 mix, though many of the rhythmical electronic noises from 'The Mix' recording are present and correct here. Ralf also sings portions of the lyric in Italian, as well as German. Minicalcolatore. Quite lively actually; very much a hybrid of the 81/91 versions...

'The Robots' - seerns to have gone a bit overboard on the weird noises at the start, which characterise the live versions from the 90s; they carry on well into the song here. On the whole, it is obviously derivative of the more refined 1991 'Mix' version but quite loose and formless. The 1991 versions are for superior.

'Music Non Stop' - unsurprisingly, different every night again. Similarities to the live version as performed on the UK tour of 1991, chiefly via Ralf Hütter's rather 'jazzy' keyboard lines. Either a lot of refinements were made before the release of 'The Mix' version or this is Kraftwerk in improvisational, free-form mode.

The Visuals...

The stage set featured the streamlined Kling Klang set as per the 1991 tour. However, the actual hardware of the video screens appear to be the same as those used in 1981.

The videos projected appear to be a curious hybrid of the 1981 and 1991 versions. 'Numbers' featured the familiar computer generated digits but in a random fashion; not the synchronised version as per 1991. 'Computer World', an oddity... at the Bologna concert it featured the visuals that were to be used for 'Home Computer' in 1991 - for the other concerts in this Italian tour the more familiar graphics, as per 1991, would appear to have been used. 'Home Computer' - a bit vague about this; at the Bologna concert the film used features the heads of the bands mannequins (as found in the middle of the sleeve for 'Electric Cafe'). For the other concerts I am unsure; probably the same film as used in 1991. 'Computer Love' - the coloured images of the 'spectrum analyzers' and suchlike appear to have been used, just as in 1991. Also like the 1991 tour format is 'Autobahn'. For 'Trans-Europe Express' it appears as if there were portions of the original 1977 promo video, featuring the band members, shown along with the black and white archive railway footage familiar to the 1991 tours. 'The Robots' seems to have been very different from all other tours - only the band themselves on stage; no dummies - no robots. The video backdrop displayed the original 1978 promo video. 'Pocket Calculator' - photos I have from the concerts clearly show the drawings of the band's heads, as per the original single picture sleeve design - except, a new drawing of Fritz Hilpert had obviously been drafted to replace Wolfgang!

The Set Lists...

BOLOGNA, Teatro Tivoli 7.2.90

Numbers, Computer World, Tour De France, The Model, Computer Love, Home Computer, Autobahn, Radioactivity Trans-Europe Express, Pocket Calculator, The Robots, Music Non Stop.

PADOVA Discoteca Extra Extra 8.2. 90

Numbers, Computer World, Home Computer, The Model, Computer Love, Tour De France, Autobahn, Radioactivity, Trans-Europe Express, Pocket Calculator, The Robots, Music Non Stop.

GRASSINA (FLORENCE) Casa Del Popolo 9.2.90

Numbers, Computer World, Home Computer, The Model, Computer Love, Tour De France, Autobahn, Radioactivity, Trans-Europe Express, Pocket Calculator, The Robots, Music Non Stop.

GENOVA Psycho Club 11.2.90

Numbers, Computer World, Home Computer, Tour De France, The Model, Computer Love, Autobahn, Radioactivity, Trans-Europe Express, Pocket Calculator, The Robots, Music Non Stop.


The complete Bologna Teatro Tivoli show is featured on the 'Return of the Mensch-Maschine (20th Anniversary Tour)' double bootleg vinyl LP and the 'Rimini Rimini' double bootleg CD (note however that the recording of the CD is rather slow). Another vinly LP called 'Save Your Software' features the following tracks from the concert; 'Computer Love', 'Radioactivity', 'Tour De France', 'The Robots', and 'Musique Non Stop'.

The double bootleg CD 'Heute Abend' features poor quality recordings of three tracks from the Grassina (Florence), Casa Del Popolo concert, namely 'Numbers', 'Computer World' and 'Autobahn'.

This article was written by IC, based on live recordings, information and photos that were supplied to me by Massimo Farina, Emilio Giaretta, Luca Morandi, Basile Tonino and Paul Wilkinson.

Ralf Hütter and Karl Bartos

Karl Bartos, Genova 11.2.90

Karl Bartos and Fritz Hilpert, Genova 11.2.90

Ralf Hütter, Genova 11.2.90

Florian Schneider, Padova 14.2.90

Florian Schneider, Padova 14.2.90

Fritz Hilpert and Florian Schneider, Padova 14.2.90

Karl Bartos, Fritz Hilpert and Florian Schneider, Padova 14.2.90

Ralf Hütter, Padova 14.2.90

  Updated: 07 : 6 : 2010