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Sunday 11 June 2017

Review: Kraftwerk The Brighton Centre Still Sounded & Looked Like The Future

It's been 43 years since Kraftwerk changed the musical landscape with their hugely influential Autobahn album in 1974. 
Pic By Andy Sturmey

This was followed by a stream of albums that would further steer popular music's path in more experimental and electronic directions, laying a foundation for the post-punk new romantics and synth-poppers through to house, techno, dub-step and everything in-between. 

For an entire generation, and many more since, as reflected in the breadth of age groups attending their concerts, Kraftwerk were, and are, The Beatles with synthesisers, futuristic gadgetry and a tonne of 50p's for the meter.

Having rarely performed after touring in the 90's, until fully returning to the stage in support of 2003's Tour De France Soundtracks album, Kraftwerk have now become something of a regular touring band, but, in true Kraftwerk style, there is nothing regular or normal about their concerts.

Their show at the Brighton Centre, their first Brighton appearance since 1981's Computer World tour, which graced The Dome, was presented in 3D. 

On entry we are duly handed 3D glasses in order to fully take in the spectacle (I thank you). The sight of an audience sporting 3D specs seems fitting with what has become theretro-future which Kraftwerk are now synonymous with, it also looks a bit daft too but who cares? 

From the moment the band take to the stage in their Tron-esque apparel, lead by Ralf Hutter - the only remaining member from the classic line-up, the room is soon filled with gasps, 'wow's' and expletives as numbers fly at our faces. 

Over the course of the evening we are nearly run down by trains, cars, and bikes, which not only provides a thrilling concert experience, but also acts as a good primer for wandering home along Brighton seafront after the show.

Standing stoic behind podiums, Kraftwerk are not showmen, they are part of a show, a visceral sonic and visual show. When a synth lead line happens there's no pomposity or posturing, it's delivered almost with slight of hand. 

This representation of anti-thesis rock stars somehow makes the band themselves just as engaging as any of their more flamboyant contemporaries. 

Trying to work out who is doing what is part of the fun. Only their legs move marginallyin time with the music, rarely both legs though, steady on fellers. 

At one point, during Tour De France, Hutter seems to lose sight of himself and becomes carried away to the point where his arms move a bit in time to the music too, he soon regathers his composure though and it's swiftly back to business. We almost saw a member of Kraftwerk dance…almost.

The music itself is delivered in sections. Each section is a cherry picked non-stop suite of songs dedicated to an individual album, only disregarding pre-Autobahn work. 

They come out swinging with a selection from Computer World, kicking off withNumbers / Computer World. Their live sound, as you would expect, is immaculate, every note and nuance is perfectly clear. 

Unfortunately it's also a bit on the quiet side, something that would start to agitate the audience, eventually leading to calls for the sound to be turned up eclipsing the volume of the band later in the show. 

The second suite of songs was lifted from the seminal Man Machine album, which spawned their accidental number 1 single The Model, which of course gets one of the biggest cheers of the evening. However, Kraftwerk fans like Kraftwerk. No one is here for a few songs off a couple of albums, they adore the whole catalogue. 

Album cuts like Spacelab, with its accompanying visuals of a 50's schlock sci-fi flying saucer hovering over The Royal Pavilion then eventually landing outside The Brighton Centre itself, are just as well received as their biggest hits. 

Although, the cheer given to the sound of a car door slamming, signalling the start ofAutobahn, appeared to rattle the roof to the point of loosening some left over confetti from a previous concert at the venue. 

The cherry picked suite formula continues through their Radioactivity, Tour De France Soundtracks and Trans-Europe Express albums, the title track getting a cheer of respect when David Bowie is mentioned. They only break suit for the encore. 

As the main set of the show ends, curtains are pulled across the stage whilst their live show staple robot alter egos are set up. A few moments later the curtains part and the legendary robots start doing their thing. Well, three of them do. The Ralf Hutter robot is being moody and not joining in with the others, when it finally busts a move it's pretty half-arsed. 

The technical problems don't end there, now the curtain has decided to throw a strop too and, rather than closing so the robots can be expertly removed for the band to return, we're presented with a comedic display of flummoxed stage-hands running on and trying to walk off with life-size robots of Kraftwerk as swiftly and professionally as possible. 

It looks ridiculous, but the best kind of ridiculous. The night is rounded off with selections from Tour De France Soundtracks and Electric Cafe, closing with a rapturousMusique Non-Stop.

So, 43 years on from their breakthrough and, somehow, Kraftwerk still sound and look like the future. A future that seems to pre-date even them, but is still yet to happen.

by: Stuart Avis


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