“Am I really,” I asked myself, “Paying this much money to watch four pensioners stand around on stage not doing much?”
“But,” you would have pointed out, “It’s in 3D”.
“Yes,” I would reply, “But most bands are in 3D when you see them playing live.”
“Indeed,” you would counter, “But it’s Kraftwerk.”
And so, there I was. Sitting with a large audience in Singapore, a city where the crowd applaud very politely between songs, and do not under any circumstances stand up until the end. Which for some artists might be annoying, but for Kraftwerk the sense of order and obedience seems to fit their Teutonic stylings perfectly.
They opened with The Robots, sounding – as you might expect – amazing. They’ve been remixing themselves again too. This, and some of the other additions later in the same concert, really do sound quite exceptional. They continued with a couple more tracks from The Man-Machine (1978) before jumping on to some highlights from Computer World (1981).
Numbers kicked off, but largely without its visuals. While the audience were still wondering if this was deliberate, Ralf Hütter had already thrown a very dirty look at Man Number 4, who was intently looking at his console and mouthing “Ich weiss nicht,” at his neighbour. Giving up, Man Number 4 pressed a button and showed a very rare vulnerability for Kraftwerk. Just before the screen went black, we got a very brief glimpse of a familiar looking blue screen, with the word “herunterfahren” (“shutting down”). Hold on – Kraftwerk run on Windows 7? I thought they came from the future?
Anyway, Numbers rolled into Computer World, brilliantly as always, but a little drab without any 3D visuals. I took my glasses off at this point as my eyes were beginning to hurt and there didn’t seem a lot of point in keeping them on, but most people kept them on as it was what they’d been told to do.
Eventually, after a couple of brief trips offstage, Man Number 4 came back on with a sheepish smile, and the visuals started again. His smile suggested more to me that he’d caused the problem rather than just fixed it. I found myself wondering if Ralf would deactivate him and replace him with another new member from his robot cupboard, like he did when Florian Schneider stopped working properly. I’ll check the trash round the back of the venue at some point.
More of Computer World followed, before we launched into the remainder of The Man-Machine. Neon Lights sounded just as dated as it always has, although The Model seemed to have gained new life from somewhere.
Autobahn finally turned up and also sounded amazing, although I found myself slightly distracted by the animations, as I couldn’t help spotting the flaws in the 3D model. Also, why does the Mercedes keep overtaking the Volkswagen? In fact, the whole concert was sold as a 3D show, and with their very minimalist performances it’s inevitable that the visuals would take a lot of the focus, although the applause from the crowd during Spacelab – solely for the visuals – was a little inexplicable. That said, Man Number 2 getting hit on the head by a giant treble clef during Musique Non Stop did make me chuckle, and it’s perhaps not surprising that some of the flatter visual moments (The Model for instance, featuring just archive 2D film footage) were very noticeable.
Tour de France sounded incredible, as you might expect. Actually, what am I talking about? The whole concert sounded incredible. Again, particularly notable were the excellent graphics that accompanied Tour de France 2003. Then Radioactivity, powerful and poignant as ever, which now features a whole verse in Japanese about (I assume) the Fukushima disaster, and was followed by Trans-Europe Express, perhaps the pinnacle of the concert, with exceptional sound accompanied by brilliantly minimalist visuals.
During Planet of Visions, I found the bass was so enormous that it was reverberating through my ribcage. I’m not sure I’ve ever had this before, but it wasn’t entirely unpleasant. And then Aérodynamik turned up, sounding a little out of place separated from its original Tour de France neighbours, but brilliant nonetheless.
As always, a mélange of tracks from Techno Pop (1986) closed the show, and Kraftwerk walked off, looking justifiably pleased with themselves. It’s the first time I’ve seen them live, and they were amazing. The audience was typically subdued, but the show looked and sounded breathtaking.
Tracks played were:
- The Robots / Die Roboter
- Numbers / Computer World
- Home Computer / It’s More Fun to Compute
- Dentaku / Pocket Calculator
- Computer Love
- The Man-Machine / Die Mensch-Maschine
- The Model
- Neon Lights
- Tour de France / Tour de France 2003
- Geiger Counter / Fukushima / Radioactivity
- Trans-Europe Express / Abzug / Metal on Metal
- Planet of Visions
- Boing Boom Tschak / Techno Pop / Musique Non Stop
Note that these are from memory (with thanks to setlist.fm), and may miss out some of the alternative versions. The set lasted two hours on the nose.
If you’re interested in another perspective, there’s a slightly less rambling review from someone who clearly doesn’t quite understand deutscher Humor here. Also as a footnote, we were also given a free poster with – slightly inexplicably – a Fred Perry design and the following enigmatic image. I suppose time will tell exactly what it means…