Yesterday was Kraftwerk’s last in a series of Tokyo concerts, wherein each night was dedicated to a single album. Yesterday was all Tour de France, followed by a selection of their most famous tracks.
In perfect Kraftwerk fashion, all four members spent the entire show standing in front of identical neon-lit consoles, looking all stern and German, twiddling knobs and occasionally tapping the beat with their foot.
The million-Deutschmark question was of course: could music relying heavily on the technological advances of an era were your modern digital watch would be a pinnacle of computing power, still sound cool 40 years later?
By and large it can. With some liberal additions of modern beats (bass and drumkit electronic synthesisers have gone a long way since the 70s or even the 2000s) and subtle production changes here and there, most tracks were perfectly enjoyable on their own merits. In that regard, our pick of the Tour de France concert (fallback after finding out that The Mix was sold-out) was retrospectively a good one: while Autobahn and Radio-Activity might be the seminal albums, they also contain some long stretches of what could only be described as very experimental music1. Tour de France, on the other hand, while being just as much of a concept album, features mostly beat-driven and melodic tracks that could fill a dancefloor on any club night2.
The “all hits” second half of the concert was just as enjoyable, although noticeably less musically coherent (as could be expected, compared to a whole album run-through). Counting a munificent 4-song encore, they covered every single track of theirs that you may have heard of. Definite chills for some of my personal favourites (The Model, TEE…) and what is probably their most accomplished production, if not the most famous: Radioactivity, complete with obligatory contemporary alterations (as luck would have it, ‘Fukushima’ is a perfect stand-in replacement lyric to ‘Hiroshima’).
As for some of the more dated fare (Spacelab, definitely looking in your direction), they still sounded dated and a bit cheesy, but seeing them performed live by four older German dudes wearing tight-fitting full-body spandex suits3 definitely helped sell them.
Single blemish on the performance: Ralf Hütter’s sparse bouts of naked singing (sans vocoder) were often a bit off (no idea if it was ever that strong to begin with). But given that he is the sole surviving founding member (Florian left 5 years ago), I’ll gladly overlook that detail.
All concert-goers were outfitted with 3D glasses, and videos incorporating varying amount of 3D were projected behind them along each track. The results overall gave a nice enhanced retro-cool feel to the old visuals, with a few badly cheesy ones in the middle (cheap 90s rave home-computer 3D meets German 80s aesthetics, gets old pretty quickly).
Small personal message to all people who insist on wearing a tall hat at crowded concerts: you may think your fedora makes you look cool, everybody else thinks you are an inconsiderate view-blocking asshole and wished you’d die.