"Fuck off. Don't touch me there" was just one memorable if not genteel lyric delivered by former Dubstar vocalist and now Client leading lady Sarah Blackwood. The publicity pushes the two female members - all co-ordinated pin stripe shirts and grey pencil skirts, and with more than a little pseudo lesbo frisson, but tonight they are joined by two male counterparts. One guitarist and one technology fiddler. Despite her former chart glories, Blackwood was palpably nervous. Her attempts at cocky confidence awkwardly coming over as arrogance. "We never imitate, only innovate" goes another line. Can't say I agree there either.
A curious combination of retro electro and more overtly guitar-based pop, the husky synths and noisy guitars did their thing on occasion but it was very hit and miss - mostly miss. "Happy" and more stroppily delivered "Fuck" words. This isn't tough or serious, it's lame. Blackwood's orthodox singing is just as fine as ever it was. The rest, and that's the majority tonight, just sounds laboured. "Rock 'n' Roll Machine" - rigid and unnatural gestures - hmm. In spite of my bias for all things electronic, the electro comes across as too contrived. Whereas, the more simple pop songs fare far better. I so wanted to like Client for a variety of reasons, but "Sugar Candy Kisses" was the only point of connection in an otherwise bitterly disappointing performance. Client should give up trying to be what their not and accept where their talent lies.
Main attraction Karl Bartos watched his support act briefly from the balcony (right next to us where we sat to watch Client). His face passive, he seemed to be checking out the audience as much as Client. He fled before I could snatch an impromptu, behind the scenes photo. This London gig was one of just three dates (the others were in Edinburgh and Manchester the same week) used by Bartos to promote awareness of his new album Communication. He'd road tested the theory to a frantic ICA audience a few months earlier and promised then he would be back. Tonight's set varied quite a bit from that witnessed at the ICA and ran for twice as long - a full hour and a half.
There was just as much Kraftwerk material here as there was new Bartos-penned works. But again, sadly, nothing from his solid solo debut Esperanto. Opening: Numbers, Computer World, then the first new track The Camera. The pristine sounds expertly recreating the Kraftwerk compositions and blending perfectly into the Kraut Rockish The Camera - one of the highlights of his latest. In the bustling audience were several faces from the scene. Perhaps most notable was a duffle coat clad John Foxx who smiled broadly. Standing quietly at the back of the hall, his face wrinkling with delight, he looked like the graceful, wise man of British Electronic he is.
I'm The Message was my most favoured new track from the ICA gig, but here, perhaps having got to know it a bit, it had less of an impact. However, Bartos/Weissraum's brilliantly stylistic computer animation (particularly on Message) are still superbly realised and fuse with Bartos' sounds to present a compelling piece of audio visual art. More from Kraftwerk's 1981 classic Computer World album with Home Computer, and More Fun To Compute was an astonishingly pumping version. For a man who found little enthusiasm working on Kraftwerk's 1991 remix album The Mix, Karl Bartos certainly knows how to rework old material.
The partisan congregation had entered the Bartos matrix and were having revelations all of their own. Reality from the new album was particularly enjoyable - a noticeable improvement on the recorded original. Next up: Telephone Call, and a grandiose Tour de France followed by the most overtly guitar-pop piece from Communication - Life. "The next song is about love and computers" Bartos said with a grin as he launched into a mighty reinterpretation of Computer Love. Backed by shimmering projections of soft, fuzzy pink and blue blobs, this classic took on a whole new character - more humanistic - more romantic.
Obviously unconcerned about relying heavily upon Kraftwerk material (and why not when there is an unrivalled back catalogue of treasures to be had?), the nostalgia wave kept coming: The Model - brilliant, and the majestic Trans Europe Express. Once I heard the monumental The Robots, in my euphoria, I concluded that the Kraftwerk 'bass slap' is the best single synthesizer sound ever created. Talking about returning to the UK, "It's always a pleasure... and always a problem" this gentleman German said cryptically. But as he left the stage flanked by his two assistants, it was evident that Bartos still loves what he does best.
Encore! It began with a very raspy Pocket Calculator, Ultraviolet, then Electronic Apeman. Finally, an unexpectedly rare but beautiful rendition of the elegant Neon Lights rounded off an upliftingly joyful evening. Combining respect for genre classics and yet not afraid to experiment or be imaginative with them not only enabled Karl Bartos to carry you with nostalgia, but also provides the solid foundation for his own new material - which is just what you'd expect from the man who put the pop into Kraftwerk.
Karl Bartos ICA, London - 22 July, 2003