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Kraftwerk jolts Toronto with robot electricity

Posted by Guest Contributor / March 31, 2014

Kraftwerk TorontoBoing Boom Tschack.

When Kraftwerk opened their set Saturday at the Sony Centre, the feeling in the room was positively electric. The bleeps and bloops that make up Kraftwerk's "We are the Robots" blasted out of the speakers as the show began and my robot heart began to race. I finally got why teenage girls scream and cry when they see their favourite boy bands, as emotion took over while Kraftwerk invoked the gods of electro music.

Later in the evening I heard this same sentiment echoed throughout different people's narratives of the the show: intense joy from experiencing such perfection that the audience was overwhelmed with emotion.

Saturday night was a roller coaster for me. There were periods of musical bliss as I saw one of my favourite bands of all time perform songs that inspired generations of electronic music, followed by moments where I was actually quite bored (it feels almost sacrilegious to say it) -- a good example of this was during "Tour De France," when the band veered off into a "techno" style break down reminiscent of their 1991 album, The Mix.

Who am I to criticize these electro gods? I feel horrible saying this, but I just didn't like those parts. The 4/4 dance beats were pointless in a seated auditorium and during this section I wished they had stuck closer to the electro pop rhythms they became famous for. That's my only criticism, and overall it was amazing: 9.5 Tschernobyl melt-downs out of 10.

Kraftwerk TorontoI heard some criticism about the 3D visuals being kind of basic, but I found them vibrant and immersive; the simple aesthetic was a nod to the era of computing that existed when many of their iconic albums were written. A simple ploy, while somewhat tactless, was when the song "Space Lab" ended with a simply rendered CGI version of the CN tower, which was met with screams and applause from the audience.

Kraftwerk TorontoI was lucky to be in the balcony, which was the best spot, with a bird's eye view of the synths and controllers that the band was using, not visible to the people sitting on the main floor. It was great to see them punching out the bass lines and vocoder parts. In 2004, they'd seemed to be using mostly laptops and various controllers, so it was impossible to grasp what they were doing and how they were manipulating the sounds live. Not the case this year, at least for the people in the balcony seats.

Kraftwerk TorontoAbove criticism aside, this was one of the best shows I've ever seen. The crowd at Sony Centre was a who's who of Toronto's electronic music scene and felt a bit like a family reunion as every few steps brought me face to face with people I hadn't seen in years.

Kraftwerk TorontoAt the end of the night one overzealous fan rushed the stage and tried to grab Ralf Hütter's microphone headset, much to his horror. While many people seemed highly offended by this brazen act, personally I thought it was funny.

Writing by Aaron Cunningham / Photos by Roger Cullman



Sandman / March 31, 2014 at 07:58 am
I had great seats to the show and this review was pretty spot-on.

The only negative was I should have brought my own 3D glasses (from Cineplex) to use, but, then again, a great souvenir!

Steve / March 31, 2014 at 08:40 am
I like this review, except I must disagree with this opinion:

- "during 'Tour De France,' ... the band veered off into a "techno" style break down reminiscent of their 1991 album, The Mix."

That breakdown is actually the first single from their last studio album, 2003's "Tour De France Soundtracks". Nowadays when they perform the 1983 song, they fuse the 2003 medley to the end of it.

While the 1983 recording is arguably one of the very best electro melodies of all time, the newer song's merits lay in its subtlety, and its effectiveness in musically painting a picture of cycling, exercise, tranquility, speed. The last "movement" arguably featured the most breathtaking visuals, with aerial shots of France's beautiful mountains and valleys, enhanced with spiffy animated 3D line art.
Shev / March 31, 2014 at 09:51 am
There were a lot of old people at this show and nobody was sweatin'.
Herry / March 31, 2014 at 02:20 pm
Too bad there is very little intelligent life in Ottawa. I would have loved to have seen this band. Ottawa only gets farm shows and Disney productions !
Steve replying to a comment from Herry / March 31, 2014 at 03:27 pm
They played two shows (!) at the Métropolis in Montreal last night (Sun. Mar. 30). I drove from Toronto to see them again.

Admittedly Sony Centre was a better venue. They packed us in to Métropolis like sardines (so it was hard to see), the sound too quiet, and nobody was dancing!
TOEventsLAD replying to a comment from Steve / March 31, 2014 at 04:03 pm
How does this have anything to do with Ottawa?
Maggie C / March 31, 2014 at 04:11 pm
Love this article!
Steve replying to a comment from TOEventsLAD / March 31, 2014 at 06:13 pm
Seriously? I could counter by asking how Henry's post has anything to do with Toronto or Kraftwerk.

The relevance of my post is that driving from Ottawa to Montreal is more reasonable for fans. From Ottawa, it takes over 4 hours to drive to Toronto, but only about 2 hours to Montreal.

FWIW I did the 5-hour Toronto>Montreal drive because, when it comes to Kraftwerk, I graduated a long time ago from fan to fanatic.
PhoToArTisTPhiL / March 31, 2014 at 11:22 pm
Sometimes fortune indeed favours the foolish.

My wife and I are Londoners, but we were in Toronto last Saturday to visit my photo lab, Toronto Image Works. We 'just happened' to be walking past the Sony Center and were about to cross the street and head into Frans, our favourite breakfast-all-day restaurant in Toronto. And then I saw the billboard for the Kraftwerk concert. I froze in my tracks.

Immediately I was transported back in time.....

To 1974, when the AM radio version of 'Autobahn' first hit the London airwaves. I was in grade 10, and was completely disenchanted with the AM pop music scene that ruled local radio. Alas, CHUM-FM Toronto and WRIF Detroit were both out of range of my General Electric radio. There I was, languishing in a world of Top 40 AM fluff. So the very first time I heard 'Autobahn', I was hooked. I tracked down the album in a Toronto record store.

Whoa Nelly! To my wondrous surprise, the album version of 'Autobahn' was a spellbinding 22 minutes long! And the sheer creative genius of Comet Melody 1 and Comet Melody 2 - hauntingly contemplative on the one hand, and joyously upbeat on the other hand - left me wondering what I had been missing all those formative years of my life.

All this flashed through my mind last Saturday when I saw the billboard. But the Sony Center was still locked; it was only mid-afternoon. So we checked into Frans for a late breakfast, keeping a nervous eye on the Sony Center front entrance. As soon as the doors opened, we hightailed it straight to the ticket office. And guess what? There were 2 tickets left at the very back of the balcony - one seat directly in front of the other! And our 2 precious tickets cost us less than standing-room admission.

Tell you what: Neither my wife or I had ever been within a light year of seeing Kraftwerk in concert before. And the electronic music genre was, if you'll pardon the providential pun, pretty much 'foreign' to my wife. That proved to be neither here or there. She LOVED the concert! She especially enjoyed the seamless synchronization of the 3-D visuals with the music.

Her favourite song of the evening? 'Tour de France'. She marvelled at how seamlessly Ralf Hütter, Fritz Hilpert, Henning Schmitz and Falk Grieffenhagen dovetailed their pulsing, driving music with the 3-D visuals and the footage of the cyclists. One could almost feel the angst, the heartpounding sensation of each racer being stretched to the limit.

I, of course, revelled in the band's treatment of 'Autobahn'. I especially liked the 3-D visual of the hand reaching out to adjust the tuning dial of the radio in the car.

The entire evening was altogether magical, but I'd like to zero in on one other 'magical moment', if I may: I LOVED how the band simulated the 'doppler effect' of the 3-D train as it passed by in 'Trans-Europe Express'. That was really cool.

It was ALL really cool.

PhiL {'•_•'}

Raven / April 1, 2014 at 10:55 am
So tease us with a description of being able to see the "instruments" used -- but then provide no photos??!! BAD author!!
Ashley / April 2, 2014 at 01:17 am
I was also really bored during that tour de france that never ends. Even having just smoked a joint.

I literally cringed when that chick rushed the stage, it was like the time people Moshed at a VNV Nation show at Reverb. WTF?

It was awesome to see Kraftwerk though, if only to say I did.
Diahann replying to a comment from PhoToArTisTPhiL / April 2, 2014 at 07:49 pm
Phil, your story is wonderful. I agree with you, Tour de France, TEE, and Autobahn were my favourites for precisely the same reasons as you pointed out. Great job for being in Toronto at that moment - it was truly meant to be that you and your wife were there on Saturday, the stars were aligned for you.
PhoToArTisTPhiL replying to a comment from Diahann / April 2, 2014 at 08:47 pm
Hello, Diahann. A pleasure to make your acquaintance!

Tell you what:

Quite apart from the topflight concert itself.....

The concertgoers themselves helped to foster the transcendence that my wife and I experienced on that memorable night.

After the show was over, as we were making our way slowly to the escalator, I spotted a gentleman tinkering with the controls of his camera, while nearby 3 people stood posing expectantly. I could tell by their accents that they were from 'the other side of the pond'. So I politely stepped in and offered to take the picture so that gentleman could be included in the group photo. He happily accepted my offer, and I went to a bit of trouble to set up the shot so that it would be truly memorable. Well. Turns out that the gentleman was from Germany, and his friends were from Russia and Slovakia. They had met after emigrating to Canada, and were united by their love of Kraftwerk's music. The Russian gentleman in particular waxed eloquent about how Kraftwerk's music has always touched him "deep down inside here", thumping his chest for emphasis. Oh Diahann, if only my wife hadn't needed to beat a hasty retreat back to London for her shift at work! We would have loved to have gone out for coffee with these way-cool people!

And then there were the people we sat beside. My wife was seated directly in front of me, so she was privy to the delightful pre-concert conversations that were struck up with our 'neighbours' as we each shared our 'Kraftwerk' stories. I was introduced to Krautrock bands I had never heard of before - Popol Vuh and Can, just for starters. And lo & behold! Popol Vuh's music has received high praise on the Prog Archives website, and iTunes sells their music, including the band's hard-to-find projects. Who knew?

These intangibles that take place in concert settings are always delightful surprises. You can't orchestrate them or premeditate them. They just simply unfold. And they always add to the 'enrichment quotient' of the overall experience. I have no doubt that Ralf Hütter, Fritz Hilpert, Henning Schmitz and Falk Grieffenhagen would be smiling if they were to stumble across this post. And so they should. Their musical expertise has done no less then foster a 'connectedness' between sons of Adam and daughters of Eve that otherwise might never have taken place.


PhiL {'•_•'}
Steve replying to a comment from Diahann / April 6, 2014 at 08:44 pm
(Please forgive me: this is Kraftwerk, so I will be compelled overanalyze this show to death for a long, long time. If that doesn't sound appealing to you, don't bother reading this comment)

After some thought, I believe the problem people had with the Tour De France medley was due to the middle: after the 1983 anthem, before the segue to Étape 2, they played Étape 1, for which there is no visual content. So in the same style as "Computer Love", we were treated to 5 minutes of decent music and ... Spectrum Analyzer / Live Waveform graphic that really just looks like an unfinished WinAmp plugin. Unlike "Computer Love" however, that 5 minutes of visual deprevation happens right in the middle of a medley that starts and ends with video imagery!

In my opinion the the 1983 Tour De France video content was perhaps a little weak, which is completely acceptable when used to build up to the breathtaking Étape 2 footage, with its pulsating, synchronized red/white/blue line art. In fact, in recent performances they have skipped Étape 1 entirely, and retained momentum as a result. Here's an example of from earlier this year in Germany (mediocre quality):

As for Autobahn, the crowd gives a big round of applause as that last chord sustains through the dramatic MRRRRROOOOWWWWW of the last car speeding by, and then ... Surprise! That's not really the end. And there's nothing really wrong with doing that, except that people have much shorter attention spans than they did in 1974, and the instrumental reprise that would follow just never really went anywhere. The extra 4 or 5 minutes became tedious, and could have been wrapped up in a minute or two.

Perhaps the extra time could have been better spent extending their incredible-sounding (but short) rendition of "Numbers", or including another song. Showroom dummies, Antenna, Pocket Calculator, Sex Object, Electric Café, Vitamin all come to mind.

Personally I has no issue, sitting thrilled right in front of a speaker near the front, ducking as robot arms and satellite antennas wizzed over my head, so I didn't really find it all that tedious. I have a some experience with assembling electronic music / multimedia shows. I wasn't surprised when people walked out saying those songs were too long. To those people, I say try sitting on the floor of a smoke-filled room surrounded by stonefaced beatniks observing a 45-minute performance of "Ruckzuck", and you'll realize our Dusseldorf boys have come a LONG way.
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