In the vast and illustrious history of electronic music, there is only one correct answer to the question of who the most influential artist/group is: Kraftwerk. Daft Punk’s signature vocoded robot voices, the distinctive 9-note melody of Coldplay’s “Talk,” and pretty much every key aspect of modern popular electro music was pioneered by this German electronic band from Düsseldorf that formed when bell-bottoms were at the height of their popularity. That Kraftwerk was able to reserve the renowned Walt Disney Concert Hall for an 8-show 3-D extravaganza speaks volumes about the clout they still possess.
Given that all but one of their studio albums were released before I was even born, it’s perhaps appropriate that I was slated to cover their eighth and final show, which highlighted the one album that was not, 2003’s Tour de France. I was walked to my seat by an usher who handed me an envelope containing a pair of 3-D glasses. Shortly thereafter, the lights were dimmed and the distinctive synth opening of the album’s title track and an in-your-face graphic of Tour de France‘s album art kicked off my night with Kraftwerk at Walt Disney Concert Hall.
Accompanied by black and white footage from past Tour de France races and with French flag album art motifs popping out of the screen, “Tour de France” played out beautifully in 3-D and was met with a mixture of whoops and hushed wonderment.
The minimalist opus that is “Vitamin” was punctuated by hundreds of fizzing bubbles from an antacid tablet flying out of the screen and coming so seemingly close to the audience that I saw several people reaching out to grab them. Of all the songs that night, this one made the best use of the 3-D gimmick. The flickering green lines of the smoothly seductive “Aerodynamik/Titanium” mashup blended trippily with the band’s matching outfits, which, save for distinctive fluorescent stripes, were a stark black.
The second half of the set was composed of a chronological greatest hits set that featured select songs from Kraftwerk’s extensive catalog, the highlight of which was The Man-Machine‘s “The Robots,” whose percussive synth beats are just as modern-sounding today as they were in 1978 when the song was released. A close second would be the titular track from Computer World.
Perhaps what struck me most about hearing bits of Kraftwerk’s vast catalog live is how fresh much of it still manages to sound; some of these tracks will be celebrating their 40th birthdays this year, yet they still manage to sound remarkably modern. These aren’t artists riding the coattails of their former glory and cashing in on nostalgia; they are artists who continue to innovate and who were so unbelievably ahead of their time that their music continues to be relevant decades later.
Apart from the music, the visual element of the show was a charming amalgam of retro and cutting-edge. From the campy drive through a world that could have very well existed in a Sega Saturn game for “Autobahn” to the realistically jerky movements of dummies made in Kraftwerk’s likeness — they’ve aged since their appearance in the music video for “The Robots” — the 3-D element tied in splendidly. From a visual perspective, the only show I can think of that might give this one a run for its money would be Amon Tobin’s ISAM. Then again, without Kraftwerk, there’s a decent chance that Amon Tobin’s musical career wouldn’t even exist right now.
To summarize the evening in one word: sensational. Kraftwerk has and continues to leave an indelible mark in the annals of music history. If you get the chance to see this notoriously reclusive band live, it’s in your best interest to take it.
“Tour de France”
“Tour de France Étape 1-3″
“Aerodynamik / Titanium”
“La Forme / Régéneration”
“Boing Boom Tschak”