Given Kraftwerk’s notoriously reclusive reputation, the group’s full-scale return to touring in 2004 was nothing short of remarkable. This excellent audience recording comes from approximately midway into the European tour that consumed large chunks of February, March, April and May (the group performing for roughly two weeks out of each month, in between taking mini-jaunts over to Japan and North America).
Barring an official live release from the band, this is just about as good as you’re going to get. There is very, very little crowd noise to distract, and the taper must have had a sweet position – possibly with an elevated mic stand – as there’s plenty of clarity and ambience to the recording. Speaking as someone who has a number of Kraftwerk albums in the collection but hasn’t listened to the group hardly at all in recent years, this has turned out to be one of the more unexpectedly enjoyable live boots I’ve heard in some time. Soothing in places, intense in others, rhythmically fluid yet kinetic, and with all sorts of intriguing vocal tangents, it brings back memories of long, very stoned evenings in the college dorm listening to lengthy epics such as “Autobahn” and “Trans-Europe Express.” Nice flashback, that.
The bonus tracks are rather intriguing. The first two are live performances (no date/venue) by former Kraftwerk percussionist/keyboardist Karl Bartos, who was a member during the group’s commercial heyday but did not rejoin the band when it reemerged from hibernation (apparently there was a big falling out). He had a moderately successful album in 2003, Communication. I’m assuming these two tracks are from an officially released source, most like as B-sides, as the sound is flawless – and the tunes are quite good, indelibly Kraftwerkian. The two Kraftwerk studio remixes that round out Disc Two are most likely officially released as well.
The packaging is modest but very appealing, full-color two-sided insert and two-sided tray panel featuring mannequins on the front and live pics for the rest. The silver CDs have picture labels as well. Crystal Cat also issued a title from this tour, At The Cirkus (Stockholm 2/10/2004), and that boasted topnotch sound and superior packaging. But for a production that comes without a label name, this one’s a class effort all around. -- OSWALD