Reviews aren't exactly my strong point, so I'll just try to relate all this on a personal level from the perspective of someone who's been a fan-geek for 20 years. :)
I first heard Kraftwerk back in 1984 when "Tour de France" hit the airwaves. Being a fan of electronic music (living on a steady diet of Art of Noise and Thomas Dolby), I had heard strange synth stuff before. This was something brand new, though. I was utterly captivated! Mechanical percussion and sound effects, robotic breathing, French lyrics sung by Germans, all sprinkled with a catchy melody...I had never heard anything like it before, and I immediately started building my Kraftwerk collection, beginning with this single.
Over the years I've bought all their albums and singles, learned more about them, and learned to appreciate what they've brought to electronic music (and how often they've been imitated). But I never got to see them perform...they don't do it very often, and there was no way I was able to see them back in the early 80's during their popularity surge in the U.S. So when I learned that they were touring again, and coming to Seattle of all places as the first of only three stops in the U.S., I sprang into action! I bought tickets for three friends who showed interest going (Troy, Anthony, and Randy), and on April 26 we got together at the Paramount Theater for the show.
I honestly didn't know what to expect. I've read plenty about Kraftwerk's performances, which usually consist of the four band members standing in a semi-circle onstage and doing little else besides pushing lots of buttons. That's it. Doesn't sound very exciting...but their live performances over the years have gotten more and more multimedia-rich, and reviews from this year's tour have been very good, so I was hoping it would live up to the reviews. I was excited to see them, but I didn't realize just how much it meant to me until the show had gotten rolling, and all those familiar favorites came to life right in front of me.
The opener was a real kick: without warning, the lights dimmed and a bright red light blazed onto the curtain, revealing the silhouettes of the four men standing behind their consoles. The crowd instantly went bananas, then suddenly the red light was gone and we were left with a dark curtain and the drone of the classic Kraftwerk computer voice slowly and deliberately intoning a greeting in German: "Ladies and gentlemen... Tonight from Germany, The Man-Machine: Krrrrraftwwwweeeerrrrrk!" Then the music started and the curtains parted...appropriately enough, they opened with "Die Mensch Maschine." At that point, I knew I was officially in Heaven for the next couple of hours. :)
The show was a solid wall of music and visuals, a nice mix of laid-back tunes and pumping dance bits. We were in the very front row, pushed up against the railing, and the bass they were putting out of those speakers was so strong I thought my organs were turning to jelly. Absolutely incredible. Ralf Hütter, one of the two remaining original members of the band, stood right in front of us on the left side of the stage, while Florian Schneider (the other original member) stood on the far right side. I'm not familiar with the other two guys in the middle, but I know they're studio technicians and are part of the band for the time being. (One guy told me before the show that they had a French guy on the tour for a while, but they fired him because he moved around too much during the performance. I have no idea if it's true, but it's a funny notion regardless.) Ralf wore a headset throughout the entire show, so he handled most of the speaking/singing parts. He usually raised his hand up to his mouth as if to project his voice, which was clearly unnecessary since he was wearing a mic...but I think the intent was to use this motion to tell us that he was singing and not just playing a sample, since the band more or less stood still while performing.
The band made their way through their most well-known pieces, and interrupted the action only between encores. Before the second encore (or was it the third?), people all over the theatre began waving their cell phones up in the air, the way they might have done with cigarette lighters 20 years ago. It looked like hundreds of blue and white fireflies swarming...I've never seen anything like it! It was a gleeful display of consumer technology, something the band itself would have loved to see, since much of their music reflects a geeky enjoyment of such things. (Click the pics here to view.) One of the highlights of the show was Encore 2, when the curtain parted to reveal animatronic robots stationed behind the band's four consoles. More about that below in the Setlist. :) The third encore, however, was probably the most visually amazing for me. The band arrived onstage in their "gridsuits" which were a jaw-dropper (more about this in the Setlist). I must have taken 30 photos of this encore alone!
As for the Setlist, I will only do a quick description of each song, but you can read a much better review here, which is a very well-written description of the show as a whole. I'm also excited about getting so many good photos...feel free to click them all, because the thumbnails do not do them justice! You'll quickly notice that the band really does remain in place at all times during the show, since they are working at playing and making adjustments to the music...but the lights and visuals and music all work together to make it a unique performance. So I tried to capture a little bit of each song and the various video images being shown.
As the show wore on, I realized just how much respect I have for Kraftwerk. I no longer worship music artists as idols or heroes...they're just people, after all. But as I watched them perform, all those teenage years of listening to what most people around me considered "weird music" came flooding back, and suddenly these guys achieved hero status for me. Not only did they help shape my own musical tastes and interests (I even dabbled with making my own electronic music for a while, as Troy will tell you with a wince), but they've also influenced countless bands and musicians since they first hit the scene over 30 years ago. That's quite a feat. It may sound cliché, but these really are legends of music, and I feel lucky to have seen them perform at least once...there's no telling when they'll tour again, if ever, so I'm happy.
Setlist & Photos