German techno pop pioneers Kraftwerk were the cream of the “krautrock” scene in the early 1970s, and last night, they demonstrated why they remain one of the most influential musical groups in history.
The setting: The gorgeous, historical Orpheum Theatre in Downtown Phoenix. With its Baroque Revival architecture, magnificent murals and molding, and balcony seating, this former vaudeville venue (built in 1929) provided classy, old world ambience for the show. Perfect for purveyors of art pop.
The scene: Kraftwerk is four guys in matching outfits standing over synthesizers for two hours. They don’t dance, they don’t talk in between songs, and they don’t do costume changes (that’s what illusory tricks of lighting are for). They move so seldom they could be replaced with mannequins and nobody beyond the first five rows would know. But their show is incredibly visceral and visual. This concert was a 3D show, and audience members received 3D glasses to enhance the experience. There were almost as many neon and flashing lights in this show as the Vegas Strip. The screen behind the band was a constant kaleidoscope of images – mostly computer-generated graphics and cartoonish scenes of cars and robots, along with song-associated words like “Boom,” “Techno Pop,” “Machine,” and “Robots.” There was more colorful eye candy than an audience could eat in one sitting. But we gobbled it all up anyway.
The sound: Kraftwerk’s last album, “Tour de France Soundtracks,” was released in 2003, so there wasn’t a slew of new material for them to play and promote. They played all their best-known and most-sampled tunes, including “The Man-Machine,” “The Model,” “Radioactivity,” “Autobahn,” and “The Robots.” Every song sounded pristine, from the monotone vocals to the rich synthesizers.
The takeaway: Seeing a Kraftwerk 3D show is like lucid dreaming. Audience members can close their eyes and become immersed in the soundscapes and transported to another state of mind. And when they open their eyes, there’s a deluge of neon musical notes hanging above their heads. Fantastiche!
(pardon our dusty images; photos taken from the Orpheum Theatre balcony with an LG Realm cell phone, a la art rock)
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