“Kraftwerk? Haven’t heard of them for a long time,” said my Edinburgh taxi driver en route to the Usher Hall, for a sold out gig by the German quartet which was ultimately to prove the timelessness and endurance of their much-loved hits.
Handed a pair of white 3-D glasses on arrival (excellent for robotic selfies) amidst chatter all around about the recent general election, I wondered whether the visual effect would be a gimmick or an enhancement of the experience. I was to discover it was, for the most part, the latter.
The band in their matching suits, a white matrix on black, walked on to gigantic cheer to stand behind strip-lit podiums. This was a crowd ready for something strange and escapist and they were to get it.
Opening with Numbers, the effects onscreen were something of a mix between a photo image library for ‘hacking’ and Sesame Street viewed by those spiders who’ve taken crack in retro drugs informational videos. By the second song, It’s More Fun to Compute, we were taking a flume through a circuit board.
Generally spectacular, the on-screen visuals were not only a crowd-pleaser, but a necessary balance for the characteristically minimal performance of the band themselves. The effort of including local landmarks for spacecraft to fly around during Spacelab went down whoopingly. Only at points did the mix fall flat, with a rather animated conversation about graphic design breaking out on Computer Love in the seats in front, but was quickly absorbed into fascination once more with the bombastic The Man-Machine. At times, I felt like I was watching a film, particularly locked into viewing the stage straight on for the benefit of the 3-D view, and Autobahn bringing the cover artwork to life while briefly charming, made my mind wander to those carpets printed with roads for children to run cars along. Breaking away from the 3-D for straight footage of fifties beauties and Hollywood stars, Ralf Hütter’s subtly arch delivery of The Model was my favourite moment of the night.
As the gig neared its concluding songs, the intimate, breathy intro of Tour de France ramped up the audience’s excitement once as the mood-unifying pulse kicked in (although it felt a pity to be seated). Retro black and white footage of cyclists rounding bends en masse overlaid with red, white and blue design flair peaked the dynamism, with the Euro-cool sophistication of Hütter’s French vocals a tonic at regular intervals.
Followed by Trans-Europe Express, clean lyrics of continental movement and friendship over a heart monitor bleep carried an evolving poignance to a post-Brexit UK crowd, all the more satisfying when a boorish stage jumper intent on disruption to the journey was removed swiftly by a team of security guards, cool of the band unaffected. For encore The Robots, actual robots replaced the band, amusingly and ironically more animated than the men-machine who had stood in their place moments before.
Despite the absence of new material, with a crowd turning out for hits now quite a few years old, these arch songs and spectacular graphic presentation not only stands the test of time but still feels future-focused.
Photos courtesy of Robin Frowley.
For more on Kraftwerk and their upcoming concerts click here.