Live: Kraftwerk at MoMA

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Kraftwerk, the pioneering electronic group from Düsseldorf, concluded their eight-night career retrospective at MoMA this week with a 3-D performance of their most recent album, Tour de France, as well as a solid hour of hits spanning the group’s four decades. Led by founding member, Ralf Hütter, who provided intermittent vocals, Kraftwerk’s four members wore checkerboard spandex and inexpressively played illuminated keyboard-coffin-things. The centerpiece of the show, as the cineplex-sized screen behind the group made apparent, was the visuals, which included an animated car ride on the autobahn, text experiments and the fizzy bubbles from “Vitamin” floating through the crowd, a staggering collection of people including Questlove, Sasha Grey, a few people in tuxes and a very tall man in all-over print cosmic pajamas.

Supposedly the event’s rapid sell-out left tens of thousands of prospective buyers empty-handed, raising the original $25 ticket price to multiple hundreds of dollars, second-hand. Regardless of the band’s undeniable effect on popular music, why? In researching this post, I came across this anonymous comment posted just last week on Brooklyn Vegan’s coverage of the band’s 2008 performance at Coachella: “Isn’t it ironic that just over two years ago, only one person cared enough about Kraftwerk to comment, and now all of sudden everyone is interested?” This year, similar coverage on the site drew hundreds of impassioned comments, both fawning and harshly unimpressed. What does it mean for a band to essentially rework their set from 2008 (if not earlier) in a significant American art museum? What does it say about MoMA as kingmakers?

Halfway through “Autobahn,” the first non-Tour song Kraftwerk performed, my dominant emotion turned to boredom, and it was hard to shake. Kraftwerk’s ever-literal lyrics remain oddly exciting, but there’s something exhaustingly unimpressive about 900 square feet of technologically dated visuals rendered in hokey 3-D. I’m a longtime fan still regretting not seeing them sooner—and on top of that a devotee a professional cycling, my heart jumping to footage from past Tours—but, looking back, my greatest joy at the concert wasn’t even my own, but to imagine attending the show vicariously as the thirty-something solo attendee in front of me, a man who excitedly shouted “Trans Europe Express!!!” as the first few notes hit and whose expressive, fist-pumping dancing would’ve fit in naturally at Ultra, were it not for his banker’s dress slacks and increasingly-untucked work-day’s white button-up, an outfit accentuated, like all of ours, by the cardboard 3-D glasses of dedicated dorks. But judge for yourself (and bring an excitable friend if you can, for inspiration). If you missed out this week, MoMA’s Long Island City outpost, PS1, will host a corresponding Kraftwerk sound and video installation through May 14th.

POSTED April 20, 2012 7:21PM IN MUSIC NEWS Comments (5) TAGS: , ,

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  1. Brian Blank says:

    Give me a break! How old is the writer of this review, 25? If he were old enough to have lived through the 70′s he would realize what so many musicians know: that Kraftwerk have influenced everything from hip hop to techno pop to alternative, ambient, and electronica. Not only are they legends but ate still out in front of everyone else in their genre pushing the boundaries. Furthermore, I’ve read so many comments and blog posts from people who were casual fans or who just happened to get tickets while there are many fans all over the world — like myself — who tried desperately to get tickets but couldn’t because of the ticket sales fiasco involved with these shows. So if you didn’t want to go or were bored then do us all a favor and keep it to yourself because real Kraftwerk fans would have been ecstatic to be there enjoying the show.

  2. m says:

    Agree with the man above! This is a hugely influential band whose fans have come to respect their work and impact on such high level. They hardly ever perform live and when they do, their mindblowing visuals/ performance seem amazing. The opportunity to see them live often brings to mind the term “once in a lifetime.” This is what fans like myself, who were lucky enough to miraculously win tickets and are massive fans, dream of! The importance of being able to see such a rare show and cross it off your bucket list was nothing short of amazing. Every time the next song came on, it was one you loved and always dreamed of seeing live. This was how good it was!

    When your dominant emotion turns to boredom and is hard to shake, and you’re exhaustively unimpressed (seriously, two adjectives?) with the visuals, a staple of Kraftwerk’s live performances, you are definitely not a longtime fan. Just admit it and rethink this article.

    I did however identify with your description of a very tall man in all-over print cosmic pajamas dancing his ass off at Tour de France. His erratic dance moves are forever engraved in my mind.

  3. Duncan Cooper says:

    I’m just disappointed that in this new context, where they had a really unique stage and a totally devoted audience, that the visual centerpiece was so flat. You’re right, few artists have Kraftwerk’s kind of legacy, but I just think back to Ben Frost and Daníel Bjarnason’s incredible audio/visual “Music For Solaris” at Lincoln Center last year (I wrote about it here http://bit.ly/g1Ghxm), where the imagery pushed the experience forward, and I was really let down that Kraftwerk’s enormous wall of literal and unexciting video—for me—held them back.

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  5. Pete says:

    Please refer to kraftwerk’s Minimum-maximum concept