Vivid Festival: Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House
Friday, May 24
Kraftwerk returns to the stage – barely an hour after performing Autobahn and a bunch of back-catalogue hits. So for show two of its eight-album/show series as part of Sydney’s Vivid Festival it’s to 1975’s Radio-Activity. And this time there’s no teaser, the version of The Robots is held over until later in the show. We are straight in with Gieger Counter’s opening minute of static and noise and intro, morphing into Radio-Activity’s proudest moment, the title track. A strange album this, very much the transition, post-Autobahn there are hints here, still, of the Kraftwerk of the early three albums (Them That Shall Not Be Named) and an early hint at what will become Trans-Europe Express but, by then, the sound is sophisticated and the shtick so fully integrated. So Radio-Activity sits out on its own.
It’s a quiet revelation to take in live, not quite the crowd-pleaser that Autobahn so obviously was – and that I’m sure TEE and The Man-Machine and Computer World, particularly, will go on to be across the weekend.
But the song Radio-Activity is a fine starting point, as good as can be in terms of opening song proper for a Kraftwerk show.
Radioland appears straight after, an almost-coda and though the second half (or second side) does fall away into the waft, sounds all but buried in on each other until the proud closer, replete with howler/brilliant-pun-in-title, Ohm Sweet Ohm, it’s an experience. And having just seen the Autobahn show it was a totally different dynamic – and largely different audience – back in the same auditorium.
With a 9.30 start time for this show it was clear – audibly, instantly – that the punters had taken the extra opportunity for pre-loading before heading out for the mind-blowing experience. So it was a far more vocal audience – wolf-whistles and other rock-star taunts and chants to greet our four TRON: Lite heroes.
I loved Radio-Activity because in recent times I’ve returned to the album, really warmed to the album and – I can’t lie – mostly because I knew I was going to be seeing this show. But it certainly seemed, for many, that the Radio-Activity album was merely a long curtain-raiser, Kraftwerk performing (as) its own opening act.
The placement of the songs was sharper, wiser – as if, also, an apology for anyone a little bored by Radio-Activity as a whole.
So it was to Autobahn’s long, beautiful, perfect title track – and again that weightless feeling behind it and the visuals assisting there too. A strangely beautiful (and serene) loop of sorts for me too as I’m transported back to a show in the very same theatre on the very same night – from just two hours earlier, but the feel is just so different. The response is huge. So celebratory. This music offering its own mini euphorias. Frequently.
And from Autobahn it’s straight to Trans-Europe Express and then a mini Man-Machine set with The Robots and on through Spacelab, The Model (again, the applause particularly rapturous) and the song, The Man-Machine.
Then it’s to Computer World for Numbers, Computer World and Home Computer.
The albums are being picked off in bites, so to Tour de France also and Electric Cafe/Techno Pop. This time we get an actual encore.
Ralf Hutter still does his “Good Night!” announcement, repeating the sentiment/command in German straight after. This, again, follows the band doing its one-by-one proto-Daft Punk soft-shoe-shuffle that is the straight-faced version of what Bill Murray’s character plays for laughs in The Life Aquatic.
But with the Autobahn show that was it. This time the beer-swillers are rewarded with the Expo 2000 single and its Planet of Visions reworking.
Yes, Radio-Activity was not quite the revelation that Autobahn was. It was never going to be but I thoroughly enjoyed it as my soft-spot for the album was obviously added to by the anticipation of this show. But what a revelation Kraftwerk was – again. Twice. In one night, even.
And if anything the “hits” – whilst I’d just heard many of them earlier in the same evening – were better/better-suited to this crowd at this time in this order.
Kraftwerk’s eight shows are obviously designed for fans to pick one (or maybe two). But there’s enough there in that amazing catalogue that if you did get to more than one – even on the same night – there’s so much in the music and the presentation to be kept in moments of
A very special evening. One for the memory-banks, one for the history-books. One to never forget; one it will be impossible to shake. So very special.