September 10, 2016
By David DiPietro
Photos Courtesy of Bomb Factory
The Return Of The Visually Impressed
It may sound like hyperbole to some, but I am going to say it anyway: Kraftwerk is easily the most important and influential rock band of the last 50 years. There, I said it.
As groundbreaking as say, the Beatles, Pink Floyd and others may have been, they were all taking a rock genre which already existed for 10 years and adding new layers and their own original stamp to the stew. Each of those groups borrowed from what came before and added their own new embellishments to the form.
Kraftwerk, on the other hand, have absolutely no precedent, musically nor visually. None.
Their first International album, Autobahn, in 1974, was the musical equivalent of the screen going from black and white to glorious Technicolor during the Wizard of Oz. Going from the distant past, into the modern age and foreshadowing the future. Over 40 years later, the German quartet's repetitive, electronic minimalism has now entered the mainstream of our popular musical consciousness. Without Kraftwerk, there would be no Depeche Mode, Soft Cell, Devo, Nine Inch Nails, nor the Human League, to name a few. This list is literally endless, but I digress.
Kraftwerk made its first appearance in Dallas since 1975 at the Bomb Factory Saturday night and all that can be said is that it was well worth the wait.
Billed as Kraftwerk in 3-D, which included 1950's style cardboard glasses handed out upon entry, the show lived up to its hype and then some.
Founding member and lead singer, Ralf Hutter, may be 70, but that did not stop him and the rest of the band from delivering a kinetic 2 hour and 20 minute performance that spanned the group's entire catalog, to the delight of the packed and sweaty confines of The Bomb Factory.
Keeping with the group's robotic image, the group took the stage standing side by side at their keyboards, computers and samplers and did not acknowledge the audience once during the sold-out performance.
"Numbers" was an appropriate opener and it sounded much like the album version, but the advancement in technology since it was recorded in 1980 made it more crisp and modern-sounding.
One thing about Kraftwerk is, like say the writings of Isaac Asimov, much of their work, which was sci-fi 35 years ago, actually foreshadowed and in some cases predicted the future. Much of their work has a modern meaning in 2016 and "Computer World" sounded fantastic in this regard.
Flanked by a giant LED backdrop, the visuals kept to the Kraftwerk aesthetic: Sparse, 1930's Weimar-German imagery one moment, shifting, mid-century modern, Mondrian-like imagery the next. Kraftwerk has the ability to be both Kitsch and futuristic. The irony and sarcasm of "Home Computer" and "Computer Love" could not be lost on many in the audience, though one can never be sure whether the group is embracing or satirizing what has become a sad, dystopian reality. I think the latter.
A word must be said about the venue. The 'new and improved' Bomb Factory is just that. Compared to the tin dump that was the one in the mid 90s, there is no comparison in both sparkling interior and clear, loud sound. But can they please get a fucking air conditioner that works? This was my second time to see a show there and at both, it was stiflingly, miserably, mesmerizing hot. By the time the show was reaching midpoint, many in the audience were drenched and fatigued, some about to pass out.
"Spacelab" sounded other-worldly and the visuals were worthy of Pink Floyd. At various times, a giant laser Space Lab and then musical 'notes' seemed to float over, under, sideways and down through the audience and many who were obviously under the influence of psychedelics, were in interstellar overdrive. Even if you were not under the influence, synthesizes was still taking place, on a mass level and it was heavenly.
"The Model," got the audience bouncing and the tune's distant, sarcastic observations were hammered home by pictures of plastic and show room dummies. But more on that later. If you didn't laugh at the song on vinyl 40 years ago, you did tonight, as the medium intensified the message, even to the many Dallas Neanderthals, who insisted on trying to ruin the experience for everybody, by trying to record proceedings on their "pocket calculators."
There was heavy police presence at this show and because of this, the pungent scent of marijuana did not start to fill the room until one of the band's signature tunes, "Autobahn." It was only when a debonair, handsome, 50's-ish man, in a Hawkwind t-shirt standing next to me, sparked up and the rest of the audience looked around, saw it was okay and quickly followed suit. I for once commend the Dallas Police Department (and that is a true first), for looking the other way and letting the 20's-60's aged audience have some innocent, collective fun.
"Metropolis" was just that--Teutonic drone, meets Fritz Lang and Leni Reifenstahl in a biergarten owned by Marlene Dietrich.
"Autobahn," while abridged to about 10 minutes, from the 20 minute album version, was still epic. It is Krautrock at it's finest and it throbbed, pulsated, curved and careened, like a lysergic drive down the autoway of the same name. Again, the visuals, culled directly from the graphics of the album, were inspired and took the audience on a trance-like, collective journey.
Both "Geiger Counter" and "Radioactivity" sounded superb, reinforced by images of Chernobyl, and Fukushima. Again, one would have to be Rush Limbaugh or Donald Trump to not understand the modern significance of these songs, both recorded in the mid 1970's. Kraftwerk's ability to at once embrace the future while acknowledging the past is one of the things that makes them so unique.
"Tour de France" was extended, as was "Trans Europe Express." Each featured wonderful keyboard and synthesized percussion interplay with Hutter's trademark vocals, sung using a Vocoder synthesizer. Both of these tracks showed why they were huge dance hits at the ultra-hip Stark Club in the mid 80's, 10 years after they were released.
Knowing Kraftwerk, one should not have been too surprised for what they had dialed up for the encore. But I still was.
After house lights went to black, the band returned to the stage. Or did they? Nope.
In place of the band, were four actual robots with limbs that moved in sync to the song itself, appropriately, "The Robots," while the band played the tune out of view. This was absolutely priceless and I heard people near, saying that they thought the band had changed clothes and put on masks that mimicked the 1977 album, The Man Machine, one of their greatest. The effect was pop art, Surrealism, a political statement and outright absurdity, all at the same time. It also encompassed everything that is Kraftwerkian.
As the tune ended, many in the audience assumed the show had reached its conclusion,
myself included. But after about 3 minutes of rapturous applause from the audience of about 1,500, the band themselves *really* returned to the stage, for a dazzling 4-song encore, culminating with "Music Non Stop."
This song almost did not stop, it also proved that, whatever Kraftwerk may be (Dadaists, Avant-gardists, synthesized mad scientists), they are at their core, a great dance band. And on this night, this Dallas audience could not have asked for anything more.
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