Friday, March 19, 2004

TOUR DE FORCE: So, Kraftwerk play their first London show in thirteen years, and who do they pull in as a celeb audience? Um, Dave from Blur, Ian Astbury, Grace Jones and Frank Skinner. Even Danny from Ladytron was elsewhere, his teutonic godparents unable to tempt him away from a lucrative dj slot on Liverpool's Albert Dock. The NME enthuses over the "visual imagery" - although the use of cyclists for Tour De France, cars for Autobahn and trains for TransEurope Express doesnt make it sound like they exactly knocked themselves out going through the Pathe catalogue, and, of course, robots replace the band for We Are The Robots, suggesting that ver Werk have a love of literalism that would frustrate a Southern Baptist.

For the Guardian, Alexis Petridis manages to work the word "febrile" into his review, pointing out that it's a miracle people care about the band so much when they look odd and have made only two slightly rubbish albums in the last twenty three years (a feat Alex Parks is, of course, halfway to completing in just twelve months). Indeed, he seems a little put out by how little the band have to do in order to get a reaction: "The quartet are virtually motionless: when Ralf Hutter intermittently nods in time to the music, the audience whoop, as if he's just slid across the stage on his knees and started handing out roses to ladies in the front row."

The Manchester Evening News had caught the show a couple of nights before, although unsurprisingly it was industrially controlled and identical to the one given to Londoners; Neil Snowdon sounds almost as if he's trying to convince himself he had a good time - it didn't matter there was no encore or movement or attempt to communicate with the crowd, there wasn't meant to be. Keep telling yourself that, or you might end up like a Bateman cartoon grotesque - the man who hoped Kraftwerk might wave, perhaps?

Ludovic Hunter-Tilney saw the band for the Financial Times in Glasgow, puzzling that the band had chosen to make this trip exactly at the point where their influence was starting to wane - but surely that would be the point where they'd have to work a bit harder? Ludo pins the appeal of Kraftwerk now down not to the futurism that they once suggested, but the slightly antwacky nature of their appearance - they belong to a past where the future promised robot helpers and flying through space, and now they're cherished as a kind of theme park from the space age. The Scotsman saw the same show, Fiona Shepherd concluding "Kraftwerk represent the ultimate in clinical obsession. This engrossing performance proved that contemplating the flawless can be fun."

But ultimately, none of the reviews sound much like people having fun: it seems that the attraction of this tour is that you can come away claiming to have seen one of the great twentieth century bands, not that you've had the time of your twenty-first century life. Perhaps that's why the celebrity count in London was so low - if you're a famous face yourself, it takes more to impress you than just seeing someone in the flesh?

Set list:

The Man Machine
Expo 2000
Tour De France 2003
Tour De France
The Model
Neon Lights
Trans Europe Express

Encore 1:
Numbers/Computer World
Its More Fun to Compute/Homecomputer
Pocket Calculator

Encore 2:
The Robots
Elektro Kardiogramm
Aero Dynamik
Musique Non Stop

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