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'The time the band forgot...'

'The time the band forgot...' looks at the mysterious 1976 live concerts - again!
From Aktivität 9 - September 1997

Cast your mind back to issue 4 of Aktivität and recall the '1976 Revisited' article... some of my thoughts and speculation about the live performances by Kraftwerk dating from 1976, something of a mysterious period; it is not well documented, with there having been a notable paucity of naughty live bootleg tapes of these dates in circulation, save the French radio one, which in itself only has a handful of tracks, not a full document of these elusive concerts...

...until now that is! Some while back, I was fortunate enough to come into possession of a live tape from the London 'Roundhouse' concert from 10 October 1976. While the quality is somewhat basic and there are one or two edits with parts missing, it has provided a fantastic opportunity to hear what the material from this period consisted of; amazing stuff. So, exactly what's so special about it, you may ask? Well, for one, embryonic live renditions of songs such as 'Europe Endless' and 'Airwaves' which Kraftwerk never played again on later tours. Even more surprising is how some of the material echoes the manner in which it was played in the 1981 live shows. For example, the fact that there is a 'Radio-Activity' suite of songs joined together and that 'Die Sonne, Der Monde, Die Sterne' is played - very similar to shows in 1981.

I offer my thoughts on this tape here...

The concert starts with the familiar robotic-voiced 'Meine dammen uend herren...' welcoming introduction, familiar from the later 1975 shows and all subsequent tours. Ralf then speaks..."You are going to see a film" - the band tune up their synthesizers - then Ralf once again... "The first composition is Comet Melody"...

And then follows the song... in a familiar style to the 1975 performances - however, it is only the faster, uptempo part 2 that is played; in 1975 the band played the more sombre part 1 first. Not on this occasion though. One particular noteworthy feature, the addition of the eerie choral voice Mellotron (?) sounds added on this version, similar to the sounds from some tracks from 'Radio-Activity'.

"We will tune up for the next song, Europe Endless" - and it follows! And it is the only occasion I have ever heard a live rendition by Kraftwerk of this song - and it is different! Bear in mind that this concert was some months before the eventual release of the 'Trans-Europe Express' LP and what we find here is a looser, slightly more uptempo arrangement of the track. Ralf actually sings the main 'Europe... endless...' refrain in a much more tuneful manner than on record. The basic shape of the song is intact - the chord progressions, the melody, lyrics. But the 'framework' is altered - the sequencer line is very different and also the bassline - the familiar, strident 'eurodisco' bassline of its recorded form is not there at all. This version is just that little bit looser and the overall effect is a little more free form.

Following on, we have 'Geiger Counter', merging into 'Radio-Activity'; I imagine that this provided opportunity to allow Wolfgang Fluer to use the light-triggered electronic percussion 'cage' that has been documented before as having been a notable feature of these particular live dates. Obviously, one can't quite 'see' from a live tape! The actual version of 'Radio-Activity' has definite similarities to the earlier 1981 renditions, with a driving bass-synth pulse being the main foundation upon which the familiar lead synth lines and ethereal choral 'Mellotron voices' are hung. Lyrically, it sticks with the recorded lyrics - 1981's versions saw the introduction of the anti-nuclear sentiments that would eventually be found in 1991's 'The Mix' versions.

Next up... a taped intro familiar from some of the 1975 concerts. It is in fact an extract from Goethe's 'Faust' originally, though from whatever source Kraftwerk have lifted it from they have processed it through a vocoder. For a more detailed description of this particular intro please refer to page 38 of Aktivität 7. This melodramatic intro (it consists of the familiar robot-voiced vocoder speak, church organ and church bells) was first heard preceding 'Kometenmelodie' in 1975 concerts. On this occasion it precedes 'Airwaves' - another unique live rendition, never again included in the Kraftwerk live repertoire. After a few minutes of sine-wave modulation, the song itself gets going. All very familiar from the LP rendition except that there is a definite lack of electronic percussion to it, it is largely the sequenced bass-synthline that propels the song along, with, once again like 'Radio-Activity' itself, the lead synthlines arcing in their ether-like manner atop.

Following this tracks, Ralf introduces the next section... he speaks so quietly, but I think what he says before this section is that it is a "we will now play the symphony of the radio star". This will take some explaining...

This 'symphony' begins with the taped 'The Voice of Energy' as per the LP version, immediately followed by a very brief snippet from from 'Radio Stars', Ralf intoning the 'Aus des Weltalls Ferne, Funken Radiosterne' lines from the track. This is then followed by the progressively more sinister robot-voiced vocodered vocals intoning 'Die Sonne, Die Mond, Die Sterne' (the sun, the moon, the stars), with equally unsettling washes of ethereal sound fading in and out of the background. Unfortunately, the tape is edited at this point, this particular suite of music finishes with 'Ohm Sweet Ohm'. Its arrangement is much more akin to the LP version in comparison to the 1981 live version. It has a more prominent bass synthline and it speeds up in tempo a la the LP version (the 1981 version was kept to a slow, lullaby tempo throughout). Its sounds also bear more in common, with the Mellotron string samples present and correct.

"The next song is called Trans-Europe Express"... and that it is, albeit a radically altered rendition. The vocodered 'TEE' refrain is very different, more of a sinister electronic whisper a la 'Uranium' in actual fact. But it is the main melody line which differs greatly; radically, in fact! Whereas the recorded version of the track has a melody line of D/G/C/F A#/D#/D, this version has a different emphasis altogether, with C/F/A, D/G/C - in short, a note missing altogether and a different emphasis to the timing of the later notes. Surprisingly, the more familiar 'TEE' melody line actually comes into the second half of this version. Quite why the first half is so different is a mystery, all I can say is that I'm glad his arrangement wasn't retained as it does not work anywhere near as well as the recorded form. The familiar 'train track' rhythm is present and correct, though it seems to heavily anchored by the bass drum sound, a definite lack of snare drum percussion to get the tempo really going, though it could be an effect of the muddy/bassy overall sound of the recording, I concede. All in all, it's something of a prototype version of the track that is far more majestic in its more familiar recorded form. As a curio however, it is quite something.

Next we have an echo from the 1975 gig, with 'Tongebirge'; like those performances, it is quite freeform and laid back with only partial similarities to the original version a la 'Ralf and Florian'. Immediately as its final notes fade out, the familiar door slam and ignition from 'Autobahn' are heard and we're off...

For starters, it is more keyboard-based; while 1975 versions still retained flute in parts, this version does not. There is also more evident employment of the ethereal Mellotron choral sounds too, which is a notable difference, while it is also at a pacier tempo in comparison to the sometimes leaden 1975 versions. Lyrically we find similarities with the 1981 version, with the addition of the 'listing' of tour dates in the lyrics; "From Duesseldorf to Bruxelles auf der Autobahn... from Bruxelles to Sheffield auf der Autobahn... ... ...from Sheffield to London auf der Autobahn... Immer wieder, immer wieder auf der Autobahn...".

Sadly, the recording is incomplete; it runs out towards the end of 'Autobahn'. This means that 'Showroom Dummies', which we know was played as an encore from one of the 1976 live reviews of this concert, is missing. All in all, something of a curio. With a mixture of tracks never performed live again by Kraftwerk ('Europe Endless', 'Airwaves') and fairly unique from later renditions of others ('Trans-Europe Express', 'Ohm Sweet Ohm') all in all an era of its own merit. Now, if only a decent quality copy were to somehow be beamed out from Kling Klang... ah, I'm dreaming again.



Author: IC, August 1997

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