Colston Hall, Bristol
There was an unprecedented rush for tickets when Kraftwerk announced they’d be visiting Bristol on their first full UK tour in 13 years.
And in comparison to their festival headline slots or their forthcoming gigs at London’s Royal Albert Hall (where they’ll play three times), Colston Hall’s 1800 capacity main room feels relatively intimate.
The 3D visual element of the performance takes on a rich intensity for each track, with words and objects leaping from the visual screen into touching distance, with every song forming the basis for a specific story. Aesthetically, this is retro-futuristic – despite the context of Kraftwerk’s reputation as originators of the electronic zeitgeist, the visuals and music have a distinctly nostalgic feel. A quick glance round the auditorium reveals a swarm of dehumanised 3D spec wearers, in someways emulating the robotic nature of the four performers.
Herein lies the unusual charm in Kraftwerk’s musical output. The juxtaposition of grand themes performed with detachment. Whether it’s the dangers of a nuclear programme (Radioactivity), the toils of the world’s greatest cycle race (Tour De France) or the development of robotic technology (Man Machine), these huge topics that define human development are delivered by four men in bodysuits who act as the facilitators for our own feelings on the subjects in question, without ever involving themselves in them personally.
Kraftwerk’s performance often feels like a presentation in many senses, but one that poses questions at the heart of our humanity. For two hours it’s a spectacular place to house your thoughts.
Musically it’s very much a greatest hits roll-out fully designed to give nods to all of their records with medleys of tracks performed together and their more distinctive singular pieces such as Autobahn and The Model taken in isolation.
By the time the robots appear for the wonderful, re-edited version of We Are The Robots (much of their live work feels like it’s been given an updated polish) it’s fully brought home the parameters this live show has. With no new studio album forthcoming, Kraftwerk’s recent efforts have clearly gone into mastering the full sensory presentation of their work in the live arena.
Tonight’s gig is a joyful ode to their catalogue, unbridled and intimate.