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Update:  Frank X. Cordero was visiting Seattle for the show, and he has a review page up as well.  I love his photo of the Space Needle broadcasting radio waves. :)  Also, be sure to check out kraftwerk.technopop.com.br, a very large and complete fan site with tons of photos and other good stuff!  And a correction:  Florian did wear a mic for a few songs...I thought Ralf was the only one with a mic, but he was the furthest from me so I couldn't see him too closely.  Thanks to Shawn in Bremerton for correcting me on this...apparently he was right in front like me, on the opposite side of the stage. :)

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.

Play
"Tour de France"

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
All photos ©2004 Total Obscurity.  Be nice, don't steal!

 

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Intro / The Man-Machine - The intro and the red silhouette thing drove everyone bonkers.  One of the best band intros I've seen. :)  The words on the screen were in a pleasingly retro blocky computer font, which they used for most of the show.

Expo 2000 - Swirling green graphics and wireframe models on the screen accompanied this song.

Tour de France 2003 - This version is a faster, more organic song, and the footage of cyclists racing through the mountains was a nice touch.

Vitamin - This had some of the most creative visuals of the evening...lots of colorful animations of pills, tablets, and things dissolving.  Anthony seemed to get a kick out of this one.


Tour de France - A re-worked version of the original...not quite as good, but a passable update.  They played the ne music video in the background for this one.

Autobahn - Their first big hit...typically it starts with the sound of a car starting up and driving away, but this time the car splutters a few times before starting up.  A bit of humor for those who noticed...
The Model - One of their most well-known songs, accompanied by classy vintage footage of women doing their best to seduce the camera.

Neon Lights - Another low-tempo song, quite pleasant with the visuals of city lights scrolling around behind them.

Sellafield / Radioactivity - A few facts & figures about the Sellafield nuclear plant scrolled up the screen while the robot voice read them aloud to us...then they began to play the slower original song before kicking into the dancy remixed version.  I was really hoping to hear this one, and they sure delivered.


Trans Europe Express - This was a smash hit in the clubs back when it came out, and their modern treatment of it preserves its pulsing, mechanical sound.

Encore 1

Numbers / Computer World - When the curtain was drawn back once more, the band came out wearing blinking red lights on their neckties...it was a nice little touch.  Then the song started with the computer voice reading off numbers 1 through 8.  Who knew that simple counting could be much fun?  A great song live.

It's More Fun To Compute / Homecomputer - Swirling green numbers filled the screens behind them as they melded these two songs together.  One guy behind me was really getting into it...when Ralf sang "I program my home computer," this guy yelled "He programs his home computer!" and so on throughout the song.  Pretty funny.

Pocket Calculator - When that giant calculator appeared, people went nuts!  Then the giant hand moved up and pressed the buttons on the screen in time to the music...pure nerdy fun.  That same calculator is on their website somewhere, and it really works.  (Note the blinking red neckties in Pic #3.)

Encore 2

The Robots - After what seemed like an eternity of waiting (during which everyone started waving their cell phone lights in the air), the curtains finally parted, revealing...robots!  I was expecting something like this, but these things actually moved.  The robots' heads looked exactly like the band members, which was slightly disturbing but absolutely appropriate.  They "performed" the song moving their arms, heads, and torsos both independently and in unison with each other.  Another thing to add to my list of stuff I've never seen.

Encore 3

Elektro Kardiogramm - After another long wait, the curtains parted once more and the band walked onto the stage wearing their "gridsuits" which were lit up like wireframe computer graphics.  I've only seen this in photos, and it was much more striking in person.  As my friends can tell you, I was going nuts at this point.  In fact, I think "absolutely apeshit" would be more like it.  The band performed this song which is punctuated with deep breathing and organic bass sounds, one of the better tracks from their latest album.  The screens behind them showed soundwaves which moved in real-time response to the music.  I was entranced. :)


Aero Dynamik - Their latest single, a quick-tempo techno ditty with more computer vocals.  Everyone was bumping up and down happily...

Boing Boom Tschak / Musique Non Stop - Ahhh, at last.  I was waiting for this one...I can't describe the song, so I'll just say that the graphics on the screen were ultra-cool.  CG faces, wireframe models, etc. floated around and looked at the audience...it was done just right.

During the last song, the band members began to exit the stage one by one.  Each of them played a special sound-effect solo on their console for a minute or two, then walked off the stage and bowed before exiting.  One by one they left, until Ralf was the only one left.  Finally he ended the music, stepped back from his console, said goodnight, and exited the stage.  The curtains then closed, leaving the glowing image of the wireframe face staring at us.  It was an absolutely perfect ending.



 

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