Kraftwerk live has always seemed like an oddly anti-theatrical concept. Imagine a stage with four lecterns on it, with what (from a distance) looks like a laptop resting on each. A bit like a corporate event where a group of executives cull thousands of victims via PowerPoint torture, whilst standing, perhaps orating, virtually motionless for over two hours as they report on share prices, best practice initiatives and other business whatnot.
The image itself is the antithesis of everything rock 'n' roll is about, but it's one Kraftwerk have made their own for over twenty-five years. History knows it works for the live audience - however the real question is whather or not can you actually sit and watch over two hours of Kraftwerk live on DVD without getting just a little bored.
First, though, let's get the obvious assets of this package out of the way. It's effectively a two-hour greatest hits set and, as such, it's pretty much faultless. Autobahn, The Robots, Trans Europe Express, Computer World, The Model - they're all here and more and they all sound fantastic. With a typically German regard for high-fidelity the DVD runs in stereo and DTS 5.1 Surround. For non hi-fi buffs DTS is one posher than Dolby Digital, as I discovered when trying to listen to the 5.1 version and, when greeted with silence, realised that my amplifier simply wasn't up to the standard. The stereo track, however, sounds absolutely superb and it seems inevitable that the 5.1 mix will have audiophiles in absolute heaven.
Listening to the music in DTS 5.1 could arguably be the main reasoning for getting this DVD, rather than the CD package. Whilst it's worth watching once, it's the audio not the visuals that count here. The stage-show consists of the executive briefing scenario, as above, with snazzy lighting and some fancy animations projected behind the band. Occasionally, once Ralf Hutter starts to sing, he raises his arm to one ear and lifts his head slightly allowing us (if not the audience) to detect the slightest hint of a smile. That's as animated as the band get, which (as they are Kraftwerk) is entirely appropriate - but also a little dull when you're not actually there.
The makers of the DVD are obviously aware of this, as they have put the various trippy visuals at the core of the production. As a result this is as much a Kraftwerk trip-out-video as it is a concert film. Often the back-stage projections will be used sans band for little bits at a time, as though there was no gig. Alternatively, those crafty editors have sometimes allowed the projections to leave the stage via a bit of elementary video trickery and glide over the audience. None of the video-art is quite up to Hex-Static standards but it does the job. That said, all those gaudy little pills flying towards you during Vitamin are more reminiscent of the ravers Kraftwerk inspired - ironically these bits of visual trickery feel far more dated than the music.
For fans, this is definitely a good package (plus you probably already know what to expect from the stage show). That said, if you don't have a DTS decoder or amplifier then the CD will do just as well - although there is a slightly different track-listing on each, this is more one to listen to than one to watch. For anyone else, either the DVD or the CD will happily remedy any Kraftwerk-free record collections, and will quickly reassure those that claim not to know any Kraftwerk that they know a hell of a lot more than they think. After all - within the two hours presented here lies the very history of electronic pop music as we know it today, by some of the least pop-star-like pop-stars ever to grace the planet.