Kraftwerk @ Symphony Hall – 13 June 2017

“Turn it up!” shouts an audience member a few songs into Kraftwerk‘s set at Birmingham’s impressive Symphony Hall, quickly following the comment with “We’re old!”

It’s certainly true that, for the first 45 minutes of tonight’s show the volume is indeed lacking, and it’s also a valid point that the majority of tonight’s crowd are well past the age of your average gig-goer. The comment does actually seemed to have the desired affect though, and the second half of the evening sees this iconic band’s retro-futuristic electro-pop filling the room in a far more satisfying manner.

Kraftwerk concerts are very unlike most live events. For starters all four members, remain completely in their designated positions for the entirety of the 2 hour show, mostly completely ignoring the audience as they twist and turn dials and knobs behind their fairy-lit consoles. But a Kraftwerk concert is not really about the humans on stage as much as it’s about the experience, complete with 3D visuals, and those tunes. Tunes that have influenced artists including David Bowie, Joy Division, Depeche Mode and LCD Soundsystem as well as helping ignite Detroit techno. The Guardian even called them “the world’s most influential band”.

Although they remain almost completely static throughout, the quartet of Ralf Hutter, Henning Schmitz, Fritz Hilpert and Falk Grieffenhagen lend a surprising warmth to the music that receives new life thanks to the state of art visual display behind them. At one point the 3D projections see footage of a UFO hovering over Birmingham before eventually landing outside Symphony Hall. The film receives huge cheers from the fans and the visuals are very much the stars of the performance on this tour. Without those, there would be very little really to watch while the electro hits pour from the speakers. The 3D visuals work surprisingly well too, adding a real depth to the stage set. The girl in front of me repeatedly raises her hand to try and touch objects flying towards her!

As for the music, Kraftwerk do not disappoint. Absolute classics like The Model and Autobahn are interspersed with techno passages and lesser known tracks which keep the energy up and showcase the depth of their sound and their influence. The music is crystal clear and, once the volume issue is addressed, have plenty of weight behind them, especially for songs which are often over 40 years old.

There are a few times when the graphics are not quite as compelling, noticeably during sections of the band’s Tour De France segment. But for the most part the crowd, all given branded 3D glasses on their way into the venue, sit transfixed by the perfectly timed sequences up on screen.

As the curtain is rolled back for the encore of The Robots, the room erupts at the site of four computer operated facsimiles of the band’s former selves who twist and turn like choreographed Action Men behind the consoles. It’s strange to call the song one of the evening’s highlights considering no band-members were even on stage!

A final few classics including the brilliant Musique Non Stop wrap the evening up nicely and the musicians each take their moment in the spotlight before exiting the stage. This was everything you’d want from a Kraftwerk show and more. Almost half a century into their career, there’s still no band quite like them.

Kraftwerk symphony hall

Computer World
It’s More Fun to Compute / Home Computer
Computer Love
The Man-Machine
The Model
Neon Lights
Geiger Counter
Electric Café
Tour De France Prologue
Tour de France Étape 1
Tour de France Étape 2
Trans-Europe Express
Metal on Metal
Encore 1:
The Robots
Encore 2:
Aéro Dynamik
Planet of Visions
Boing Boom Tschak
Techno Pop
Musique Non Stop

Review & photos – Steve Gerrard

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