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Live: Kraftwerk at MoMA

April 20, 2012

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.

Live: Kraftwerk at MoMA