KRAFTWERK 3-DPhilharmonic Hall 11/6/17
Expectations are high for the first visit of electronic godfathers KRAFTWERK to Liverpool since 1991. The foundations this band created in the 70s formed the basis for 80s synthpop, the loops for early hip hop and inspired much of 90s dance. The Philharmonic Hall is sold out and people are milling about in a state of giddy excitement, sporting the 3-D glasses we’ve all been issued with. What have the robotic innovators got in store for us this evening?
Taking to the stage to the track Numbers, the four members arrange themselves in a row behind lectern-like keyboard stands. Each is wearing a funky luminous body suit that makes them look like they’ve stepped out of the movie Tron. The graphics on the screen behind them are the numbers one to nine. When these numbers in turn jump out of the screen in the first full use of the 3-D effect, those around me let out an audible gasp.
Spacelab starts with the band piloting their ‘kraft’ through space. The best 3-D flourish of the night sees the spaceship flying out of the screen with the antenna almost tickling our noses. Soon we are above the UK with a big Google marker above Liverpool (which gets a cheer). Next, we see their spaceship hovering over the Liverpool waterfront and, finally, it lands in Hope Street outside the Phil’s front door.
The classic tracks keep coming, with The Model followed by Neon Lights. But it’s the beginning of Autobahn that really makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It’s such a beautiful song; not a note is wasted, every melody in the sparse arrangement is perfect in its role. The music takes us across the countryside first in a Volkswagen then a vintage Mercedes, as the visual spectacular follows suit on the screens and in the twinkling LED sparkles on the band members’ suits. The set moves on with selections from the Tour De France Soundtracks LP and concludes this section with Trans Europe Express, Metal On Metal and Abzug. Founder member Ralf Hütter (on the far left) delivers his elegiac love letter to train travel: ‘From station to station / Back to Dusseldorf City / Meet Iggy Pop and David Bowie’.
There is a small timing hiccup in the music during Radioactivity. But this goes to show the music and images are being generated live rather than coming from tapes. Hütter gets a laugh at the end by quipping, “This was a failure of electricity”.
The first encore begins with the song The Robots. The curtains part to reveal four red shirted robots on stage. Let me be clear here: these are animatronic robots on stage, not Kraftwerk themselves. The robots move in unison and the huge 3-D arm of an on-screen robot sweeps over the stalls. The song ends and the robots get one of the biggest rounds of applause of the night.
The curtain closes again and the human forms of Kraftwerk return. They perform a couple of less familiar numbers, but then close in fine form with a trio of tracks from the album Electric Cafe. Boing Boom Tschak is spelt out in sync on the screen. Musical notes then tumble across it in 3-D followed by huge, wire-framed robot heads. One by one the band members leave the stage with only Hütter remaining to take a final bow to huge applause, with none of us any the wiser about where the boundary between man and machine truly ends.