Review: Kraftwerk brings electro-pop and 3D imagery to The Music Center at Strathmore
The electro-pop group Kraftwerk has been shredding the envelope of what is possible in electronic instrumentation since 1969. With the lead vocals of Ralf Hütter, the electronic percussion of Fritz Hilpert and Henning Schmitz, and the video\technical skills of Falk Grieffenhagen, Kraftwerk (which means power station in German) performed their signature and not-so-signature hits to the tune of two hours of musical enchantment at The Music Center at Strathmore, September 3, 2016.
Formed by Hütter and Florian Schneider, Kraftwerk has influenced artists such as Gary Numan, Human League, Depeche Mode, and Afrika Bambaataa who interpolated “Numbers” and “Trans Europe Express” into his 1982 hip-hop/electro hit “Planet Rock.” (Which brings back memories for me. Listen to this author’s Kraftwerk favorites here.) In 2014, Kraftwerk was honored by the Grammy Academy with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
It’s often the complaint of concert goers that their beloved bands sometimes focus on playing new tunes, as opposed to the hits that made them famous. Kraftwerk’s Strathmore performance was a mix of the old, the new and the very different, starting with the 3D glasses issued to audience members and continuing with the dazzling video imagery that brought each song to life. Admittedly the band members did little performance-wise, aside from Hütter’s vocals, but stand at their lecterns, seemingly playing the music. But that’s not the point of a Kraftwerk concert. The point of a Kraftwerk concert is to consume the marriage of the instrumental and the visual.
The song that started it all, in the concert, and for performers such as Mr. Bambaataa, was the unforgettable “Numbers”, with its one-through-eight counting refrain (in German) and 3D numbers that seemingly flew over the audience’s heads, thanks to Grieffenhagen.
Nineteen-eighty-one’s, bouncy-disco-pop “Computer World” featured green and black, 3D dancing numbers, a 3D 80s-era desktop computer, and the Vocoder-infused vocal chant “Interpol, and Deutsche Bank, FBI and Scotland Yard!” That song could have easily been calculator manufacturer Texas Instrument’s commercial theme-song (along with “Pocket Calculator” from the same album, which they did not perform this particular night).
Next, the dreamy electro-ballad “Computer Love” and the beat-pounding “Man Machine” (with Hütter’s vocoder vocals) kept the airwaves filled with a steady, musical rapture. “Spacelab” featured a pounding, late 70s beat, and visually, the inside of the controls of a space ship looking down on the Earth. Grieffenhagen cleverly “shouted out” to the Washington, DC Metro-Area by showing a red Google Earth pin on the area as the spaceship hovered over the image of the East Coast.
“Autobahn” featured stunning computer imagery, complete with a 3D Volkswagen Beetle, 3D musical notes and a Mercedes that seemingly made its way down a video-game-like highway.
The very 80s “Radioactivity” imparted a Cold War “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” feel, along with images of atoms being smashed. “Radioactivity” could have been used in an Arnold Schwarzenegger action film circa 1987. “Tour de France”, one of the group’s most well-known hits, featured lots of old, black-and-white footage from that famous bicycle race.
Kraftwerk’s signature “Trans Europe Express” was and is always spectacular. Featuring Hütter’s haunting vocals, this 1977 hit brings to mind power, technical know-how and the thrill of transportation.
After a quick, behind-the-curtain change, the live band members were replaced by four red-shirted, black pants wearing mannequins for the up-beat, rump-shaking, “The Robots.” Grieffenhagen’s robot imagery was spectacular.
The evening ended with “Music Non Stop” with its “Boing, Bumm, Chuck…Ping” chanted, vocals and commanding, techno-hip-hop beat. Each group member, in neon-green striped costumes, bowed to the audience in turn, and exited house right to the pounding beat. It was a fantastic culmination of all of Kraftwerk’s considerable musical powers, which caused an eruption of a standing ovation from the devoted audience. Kraftwerk is a must see for music fans of every persuasion, a study in musical mastery. Seize the opportunity to see them whenever you can.
Running Time: Two hours, with no intermission
Kraftwerk performed at The Music Center at Strathmore – 10701 Rockville Pike, North Bethesda, MD for one night only, September 3, 2016. For future events at The Mansion and The Music Center at Strathmore go to their calendar of events.