Let’s play a game of true or false: In the latter half of the 20th century, four men from Düsseldorf revolutionized electronic music and influenced entire genres of popular music. If you know the answer, which I presume most of you reading this do, it seems rather pointless to introduce Kraftwerk the way you would most bands in a concert review.
There isn’t much to write about Kraftwerk that hasn’t already been written about them in a critical sense: futurists who built their own electronic instruments, composing entire albums based on the singular, but well-thought out thematic concepts, and the countless influences who are indebted to them. On Tuesday night, concertgoers packed The Olympia Theater in downtown for two shows in one night, unheard of for a band whose leader is pushing 70 years of age.
My own personal expectation was already elevated, having seen Kraftwerk at Ultra three years earlier. The festival performance lacked the three-dimensional punch that this tour was advertising, so I was eager to see this show for myself. I missed out on the early gig, but I had seats for the 11:30 p.m. show, which I had expected a smaller crowd for. I was dead wrong. The entire orchestra seating was filled to capacity, with people eagerly strapping on their 3-D glasses. With no opening act, the curtain lifted and without hesitation, Kraftwerk launched into their 1981 tune, “Numbers.” Each member of the band was preoccupied with their own console, outlined with flashing LED lights, which matched the LED on the skintight body suits worn by the band.
Following three more songs off Computer World, the band begun the intro to the title track of 1978’s The Man Machine. The entire concert was more or less performed in segments, with the band playing several songs off one album before beginning the next set of tracks from another. The most striking aspect of the three-dimensional show behind that band was how varied the imagery was. It could have been incredibly easy for Kraftwerk to more or less flash colors or objects towards people in a bad-scary-movie way but being Kraftwerk that would’ve been too easy. Instead, the band opted for a 3-D backdrop featuring black and white newsreel footage (“The Model”, “Tour de France”), old promotional footage featuring the band themselves (“Radioactivity”, “Musique Non Stop”), and humorous moments wherein a computer-generated UFO lands down in Miami via Google Maps and in front the Olympia Theater at the end of “Spacelab.” Words, musical notation, numbers and more flashed across the screen, but all of it made sense: appropriate visuals that commanded our attention as an audience but weren’t gimmicky or exhausting.
Perhaps the highlight of the night was during the encore when the curtain rose again and in place of the band were their automaton counterparts, dressed in their iconic red long sleeves and black ties. At this point in the show, the entire left side of the lower theater jumped up, and would remain standing until the end of the concert. Credit must be given to the audience, who were gripped by the show and for the most part, didn’t stick their faces into their cellular devices except to take photos. It’s a pastime of local rag’n’blog media to deride Miami music fans, but on this night, both man and machine, band and fan, came together to fully immerse themselves in Kraftwerk’s three-dimensional world.
- The Olympia Theater, having played host to Neutral Milk Hotel and now Kraftwerk is shaping up to be another great venue in a city that can always use more of them.
- The crowd was incredibly diverse, with people from England, Germany and Venezuela in my section.
- Ralf Hutter poked fun at a technical difficulty delaying the start of one song: “Maybe it’s too late for computers”.