Concert Review – Kraftwerk (2015)

I know some folks see hundreds of concerts before they even graduate high school, but that was never really a part of my life growing up. At one point, I was even more into music than anything else (more than anime, sci-fi, or wrestling GASP! ) but I went through a few phases of changing musical tastes, and grew up poor, so my exposure to new bands and concerts was at the mercy of MTV and VH1. It’s only been in the past few years that I’ve had both the disposable income and friends that enjoy live music that I have been attending more concerts than I ever have in my life. I’m one of those guys that usually won’t go to the theater or see live entertainment by myself because, to me, that’s super lame.

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One thing I’ve especially been trying to do is see shows from bands on my “musical bucket list”, especially ones where band members are getting old, and it might be close to time for them to be retiring….or worse. I still feel sad that I never got to see David Bowie in concert, that is assuming I would ever have had the cash sitting around to do that when he was touring on a consistent basis, but the thought is still there that I missed out.

That’s why I jumped at the chance to see the legendary German electronic quartet, Kraftwerk, when they went out on a North American tour about a year and a half ago. Apparently, they had not been to Kansas City since the mid seventies, with that sort of frequency, this was basically a once in a lifetime show! Why didn’t I post about this then? Well, this blog wasn’t as open to this sort of topic then, and I wasn’t posting as much due to personal stuff going on. Now that Arcadia Pod is open to whatever I want to write about, I plan to review some concerts I attended recently as well.

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We knew we were in for a treat when we were handed 3D glasses. What IS a 3D concert anyway? we were about to find out!

 

 

When we were seated, a guy that I will characterize as an aging yuppie (as well as a gaggle of the drunkest and most-drugged out fiends he could find) looked back at my wife and I, both in our early 30’s (I’d assume they were 50-ish), and remarked at how confused he was to see folks our age at a Kraftwerk show. Indeed, Kraftwerk is ostensibly a band of the 1970’s and 1980’s, but they have been a big part of my life for as long as I can remember. Anyone that is a fan of electronic music, new wave music, or even hip hop music should know about Kraftwerk and their contributions as they were decades ahead of their time.

I recall many days in rural Kansas where I would watch educational TV on PBS; these were the days before I had cable, as satellite was the only real way to get anything other than local channels out into my neck of the woods. I watched PBS more than anything else, and I honestly credit that with the fact that I was slightly accelerated in a few topics in elementary school. A few of my favorites were an old show called 3-2-1 Contact, and another called Newton’s Apple, the latter having an amazing theme song that I loved.

I would later find out that this theme song was in fact, a song called Ruckzuck by a band called Kraftwerk that my mom had a few records by – most notably 1974’s Autobahn. I won’t pretend that I was enamored by the full length LP of Autobahn at that age, because it was far too complex and long for me (22 minutes for the title song alone!) but the band’s name stuck with me. It wasn’t until we moved to Kansas City, and got cable, that I would sometimes see Kraftwerk Videos on Vh1. I immediately fell in love with their sound. So yes, annoying drunk guy at concert – I do know who Kraftwerk is, turn around and let me enjoy the show!

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The biggest thing that caught my eye going into this concert was the promoter tagline and marketing listing this as “a 3-D concert”. “What does that even mean?” I said to myself, was this just a bit of marketing goofiness or was there really going to be a 3-D element to the show? Fast forward to us standing in line, and being handed small red envelopes with 3-D glasses in them (seen above). I knew that Kraftwerk usually employed giant media screens as a way to make concerts more exciting, as four guys standing at keyboards can be sort of boring, what I didn’t know was how much this 3-D was going to change the concert game for me.

Considering Kraftwerk also actively pretend to be robots on stage, a lot of stage charisma is sort of out of the question, they need gimmicks like this to enhance the music. Upon the opening few seconds of the song “Numbers” the awesomeness of this 3-D was made clear as the theater was filled with huge lime-green numbers floating in the air and loud cheers from everyone in attendance.

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This picture really doesn’t do it justice, I’d love for a home video release with glasses.

 

All of the songs (over two hours worth without an opener) were arranged in album suites with some featuring full-length cuts of longer songs such as Autoban and Tour de France. They opened with five tracks from 1981’s Computer World, starting with Numbers as mentioned above. this was followed by songs from Radio-Activity, Trans-Europe Express and more. Almost all of their major albums had some sort of representation here, minus the first two albums that were more “stoner rock” than the electronic sound they eventually settled on.

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The famous song Radio-Activity, got a new line added about Fukushima

This was the full set-list, honestly do yourself a favor and see this show if it continues past this leg.

Numbers; Computer World; It’s More Fun to Compute; Computer Love; Pocket Calculator; Metropolis; The Man-Machine; Spacelab; The Model; Neon Lights; Autobahn; Airwaves; Intermission/News; Geiger Counter; Radioactivity; Electric Cafe; Tour de France: 1983, 2003 (Etape 1), 2003 (Etape 2); Trans Europa Express/Metal on Metal/Abzug. Encore: The Robots; Aero Dynamik; Planet of Visions; Boing Boom Tschak; Techno Pop; Musique Non Stop.

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Perhaps my favorite Kraftwerk concert thing is where they take a break and are replaced by actual robots for one song.

One of the cooler parts of the concert, for me, were those small hints of improvisation that were sprinkled in from here or there. I know some folks try to bad-mouth acts like Kraftwerk and Daft Punk as being guys that press play on stage, but that isn’t how this works at all. you could tell that the guys were up on stage actually mixing samples and re-arranging things as they went. while it might have been tightly controlled German engineered chaos, it was still cool to hear.

The highlight of the night was probably Tour De France, there was just something about the mix of video and songs that I wasn’t really expecting. My favorite Kraftwerk album has always been Trans-Europe Express, and perhaps I have ignored Tour De France, but it really caught me off guard in a good way. Since this show, I have listened to it more because of the concert. Honestly the whole concert stood out as awesome, with no real dud anywhere in the set. The only let-down was when the lights came back on.

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Metropolis had the best video presentation

I will chalk this up as, perhaps, my favorite concert that I’ve ever been to. The attention to making this an “event” that you can only experience live was exhilarating, and I wish more bands would do stuff like this. this was a great show that is suitable for all ages, as there really isn’t any vulgarity or sexual content anywhere in their repertoire. That’s not a big thing for me, as I see stuff that’s definitely not for kiddos all the time, but it’s good to know that it’s out there without it actually being “for kids”.

Glancing at Kraftwerk’s website, it looks like they are currently in the middle of a long European tour – so if I have any UK based readers that have yet to see this show, I’d recommend seeing if it’s coming to your town in May. As for US readers, fingers crossed that it isn’t another 40 years before the robots come back to town. In the meantime, check some videos out on Youtube, that’s almost as good.


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