It's fair to say that without Kraftwerk, there would no Daft Punk. Or, really, any other new wave, "electronica," or "EDM" artist, period. So it was entirely appropriate this week when the techno legends (sole original member Ralf Hütter plus relatively recent recruits Fritz Hilpert, Henning Schmitz, and Falk Grieffenhagen, all squeezed into neoprene, glow-in-the-dark "TRON" unitards) took over Los Angeles's Walt Disney Hall. The hallowed venue may usually be the domain of orchestras interpreting the classic works of Brahms, Beethoven, and Tchaikovsky, but the music of Kraftwerk is undeniably just as classic.
The German synth pioneers' four-night, eight-concert, sold-out "The Catalogue 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8" residency at Disney Hall commenced March 18, with an "Autobahn" early show and a "Radio-Activity" second act. Every night of the week offered two concerts — each dedicated to one landmark Kraftwerk album — but whether it was 1977's "Trans Europe Express," 1981's "Computer World," 1986's "Techno Pop," or 2003's "Tour de France," delighted, 3D-spectacled fans were totally feeling the computer love, as each audience was treated to a true musique-nonstop feast for the synthetic senses.
The three-dimensional effects that accompanied each concert were equal parts Atari arcade game, Laserium lightshow, LED pocket-calculator display, and Düsseldorfian fever dream. From the crudely animated Volkswagen Beetle that raced along the "Autobahn" to the creepy animatronic mannequins of "The Robots" to the amusing rotary-phone cartoon that accompanied "The Telephone Call," there was a charmingly retro quality to Kraftwerk's graphics that lent a bit of humor to the group's cold and calculated computer revue.
And those cardboard 3D glasses were a cool souvenir, too.
But there was another charming, and surprisingly human, element to Kraftwerk's Disney residency: the fact that, despite what some of their lyrics may have claimed, these man-machines weren't just robots. Ralf & Freunds weren't simply pushing buttons, twiddling knobs, and going through motions. Proving that it's more fun to compute, indeed, they played at least partially live, improvising and embellishing and crafting (or krafting) a real, once-in-a-lifetime concert experience. Kraftwerk, actually, well, worked onstage.