The men of Kraftwerk man the machines for an audio-visual travelogue at the Wang.
It’s not enough that electronic-music pioneers Kraftwerk influenced everything from synth-pop to EDM, leading to Daft Punk, Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode and the Cars, whose keyboardist Greg Hawkes was among those who filled the Citi Wang Theatre on Saturday to soak in the rare spectacle of a Kraftwerk concert.
Kraftwerk went beyond Nine Inch Nails’ multi-layered video effects to present an immersive 3-D experience (via distributed cardboard glasses) that more closely evoked the sound and vision of ’70s contemporaries Pink Floyd when that group played theaters back in the day. An exquisite surround-sound mix was perfectly synched to big-screen visuals as stunning as virtual spacecraft and skyscraper beams that hovered into the crowd much as Pink Floyd used plane and pig props. Kraftwerk even depicted a flying saucer landing outside the Wang marquee.It’s not enough that electronic-music pioneers Kraftwerk influenced everything from synth-pop to EDM, leading to Daft Punk, Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode and the Cars, whose keyboardist Greg Hawkes was among those who filled the Citi Wang Theatre on Saturday to soak in the rare spectacle of a Kraftwerk concert.
Granted, the onstage action seemed pretty static with the four band members (all wearing Tron-grid bodysuits that complemented onscreen line animations) poking away at podiums that suggested a high-tech game show. Kraftwerk even poked fun at the question over how much was being physically performed when mechanized-mannequin doppelgangers appeared at the podiums to recorded music and vocals for 1978 blip “The Robots.”
Otherwise, vocals were handled live by Kraftwerk’s remaining co-founder Ralf Hutter, bridging vocoder cool and Bryan Ferry-esque savoir faire. And for the most part, Hutter and his comrades busily synchronized the whole shebang from keyboards, samplers and computers, much of it indeed involving human hands. This was most evident when the players each soloed, bowed, and left one-by-one at the end. The last to leave was Hutter, who put his hand to his heart, then gestured thanks to the machines in lieu of any remaining humans onstage.
The machines certainly did their jobs as Kraftwerk clearly took advantage of advancements in digital equipment. The players forged rich synthesizer textures and hypnotic beats that climaxed in prog-rock swells rather than EDM drops when the group set the controls for the heart of the reactor in 1975’s “Radioactivity.”
For those who’d never seen Kraftwerk, which was probably most of the audience, the program worked near-seamlessly as a balanced catalog retrospective, with appropriate visuals also produced at the group’s secretive Kling Klang studio. That entailed the throbbing numbers in songs from 1981’s Computer World, the highway glide of extended 1974 highpoint “Autobahn” (with white lines also going the other way in a rearview mirror), archival bicycle-race footage for 2003’s Tour de France Soundtracks (more wheels and motion from a band of avid bicyclists), and ghostly bullet trains in 1977’s “Trans-Europe Express,” with animated sequences tightly meshed to the musical rhythms.
Credit the precision of German engineering to coin a phrase from automobile ad copy (the Volkswagen Bug and Mercedes-Benz sedan depicted for “Autobahn” indeed suggested a car ad). Two hours had already passed, along with the best video tricks, by the time Kraftwerk flashed terms like “Electro” (in “Planet of Visions”) and “Techno Pop” (in the song of that name) during a second encore. It seemed both obvious and unnecessary commentary on the band’s influence by that point.
Sure, the program might have been edited a bit, so not to drone on like the travel machines, but the musicians kept the proceedings percolating from their posts. And the whole production proved that Kraftwerk not only stands as a band that was ahead of its time, but one that remains largely ahead of our time.