Royal Festival Hall, March 18th

Spending an evening in the company of four dapper German men approaching their sixties, watching their cycling movies and listening to ancient electronic music isn't something that you would want to do every day, if ever. But sacrificing an evening to see genuine musical pioneers relive their greatest moments? That's a different matter.

Kraftwerk are arguably as influential as Hendrix or the Beatles and seeing them in the flesh (or indeed, in robotic form) is a rare honour. It's 13 years since they last played a London show, and this one sold out months ago. Many of the people present tonight were probably at the last show and will undoubtedly be at one, or both, of the weekend's Brixton Shows, such is their devotion. But, as the "show" probably hasn't changed much over the 30 or so years that Kraftwerk have been at it, it's difficult to imagine why anyone would want to see it more than once.

The four besuited members take up their positions onstage to rapturous applause, the projections and minimal stage lighting doing little to illuminate them, and they remain in silhouette for the majority of the first part of the concert. The opening notes of the mighty "Man Machine" fill the Festival Hall and we're on our way.

All the tracks played tonight have obviously benefited from a series of transfusions of new blood over the years. However, despite beefed-up the basslines and tweaked samples they are essentially the same timeless pieces they always were. If you don't know any better, tracks from last years "Tour De France Soundtracks" album, such as "Elektro Cardiogram" and "Vitamin", blend in perfectly amongst tracks well over a quarter of a centruy old. In fact it is only the new single, "Aero Dynamik", that sounds like a step forward, with it's seriously bouncy bassline and synth stabs.

In an age where multimedia is a standard part of the live music experience, what was once a groundbreaking visual extravagnza has lost some of it's wow-factor. The computer graphics which fill the huge screen can only be described as dated, huge blocky text and wireframe figures merging with black-and-white movies and massive iconography. But for second encore "The Robots", the band are replaced by their automated replicas. It's an incredible sight, and as the four robots move gracefully through their pre-programmed routine, you can't help but think how blown away you would have been had you seen this in the 70's.

For the third and final encore, the band reappear on stage in their "cyber-suits". Illuminated by UV, their body stockings are criss-crossed with green neon grids and as they play, predominantly green graphics flicker across the screen. It seems like a crude attempt to bring them up to date, and they play the two aforementioned newer tracks - "Elektro Kardiogram" and "Aero Dynamik" - before closing the evening with "Musique Non-Stop". During this track the members leave the stage one at a time until only founder member Ralph Hütter is left. He improvises a few chords (so there must be something behind that lectern after all), says his goodbyes and exits stage right. And that's it. Maybe forever...

SET LIST: The Man Machine, Expo 2000, Tour De France 2003, Vitamin, Tour De France, Autobahn, The Model, Neon Lights, Sellafield2, Radioactivity, Trans Europe Express
Encore 1: Numbers/Computer World, Its More Fun to Compute, Pocket Calculator
Encore 2: The Robots
Encore 3: Elektro Kardiogramm, Aero Dynamik, Musique Non Stop.

Richy [ March 19th, 2004 ]

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