Kraftwerk, MOMA, New York
Wednesday 18 April 2012
Day 7 of the Kraftwerk retrospective at MOMA in New York saw the band play The Mix, their greatest hits album of sorts.
When it debuted in 1991 the album was oft criticised for rendering some of their classic catalogue less enjoyable by adding melodic components whilst forgoing some of the more harsh electronic sounds that made them the granddaddies of techno music. Yet the flip side is that it’s the perfect Kraftwerk album to see live, gigabytes of hit tunes downloading one after the other. The sounds used to revamp the songs on The Mix made it the album that most sounded like hearing the band play life.
The unique retrospective series of concerts at MOMA positions the Dusseldorf band as a work of modern art. Each night a different one of eight albums has been played in chronological order. An amazing feat for a foursome who spend concerts standing behind a desk that looks like it’s been liberated from a school classroom, while pre-recorded cinematic images and animation provide the visual stimulation on a screen behind them. The new innovation is to conduct the whole show in 3D.
Tickets to the concert that took place in the museum’s Marron Atrium are like gold dust, a hilarious Downfall mash-up that has been doing the rounds on Youtube gave voice to the dissatisfaction felt by many at the difficulty of getting hands onto one of the 450 pairs of tickets available each night. A copycat concert ‘Krautwerk’ featuring a range of artists including Kim Gordon played an alternative tribute concert in Brooklyn and was just as hard to get tickets for. The buzz from the opening week about the 3D visuals has been almost entirely positive despite the flimsy branded cardboard 3D glasses that the audience is obliged to wear. With such a level of anticipation it’s surprising that the show just about lives up to the stratospheric expectation.
The band entered the stage to the sound of the album’s opening song ‘Robots’. The wow factor comes fast when an animated robot literally seems to pop out of the screen and envelopes Ralf Hutter, the only original member of the band still in the band. Whilst the 3D is very now, the actual figures in the animation hark back to the birth of computer modelling and look like they were created in the 80s, especially the linear lines of the trains that serve to supplement Trans Europe Express.
The songs were mainly played in album order, with a few ‘best of’ tracks such as Tour de France sneaking in from time to time, mostly in the back stretch of the concert.
Yet the most impressive element of the concert may just be the framing of the band on stage. The musicians look like works of art standing together in jumpsuits on stage lost in a present where the previously imagined sounds and visions of the future already look like debris from the past. Yet with a new album in the offing and an almost timeless sound, it’s still probably too early to put Kraftwerk in the museum, no matter how great the experience.
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