Krautwork 1-8 Condensed: Kraftwerk Covered
Tuesday, April 10
Better than: Waiting in the queue.
“Intellectual property” is the hot Hollywood buzzword this season for content with which potential audiences might have some previous and preciously guileless associations—enough to want to shill out $12.50 to see, say, a movie based on the otherwise plotless board game Battleship. While tribute bands have long been big business pretty much everywhere, it’s likewise nearly impossible to go a week in New York without some kind of star-studded tribute, from Michael Dorf’s big-budget epics (including his Hot Rocks at Carnegie Hall last month) to more personalized affairs (The Shaggs themselves are attending this coming weekend’s show at Rock Shop). And Kraftwerk is some hot IP right now, enough to fill a 250-or-so capacity room on a Tuesday night in Brooklyn, while the (arguably) real deal plays the first of eight sold-out nights at MoMA.
But “tribute” doesn’t quite describe Krautwork 1-8 Condensed: Kraftwerk Covered, however, held at Littlefield last night and one of at least four shows this week capitalizing on the recent spate of Ralf-mania. Featuring only one less original member than the version of Kraftwerk performing 3D-aided renderings of their classic albums, Krautrock 1-8 Condensed was little consolation to anybody shut out of MoMA, or even anybody just hoping for a night of far-out interpretations of heady music. Which is all too bad, because the bill was loaded with top-flight noisenik talent, including the first performance in years by Kim Gordon and Julie Cafritz’s Free Kitten, plus members of Pterodactyl, Parts and Labor, and Trans Am. And also too bad because Kraftwerk’s music seems so built for creativity. But it’s not hard to imagine the members of Kraftwerk standing cross-armed in the Littlefield audience, staring in steely menschmaschine disbelief at the cavalcade of robot jokes and stand-ups mugging their way through the German duo’s catalogue. And that’s not because there’s nothing funny about Kraftwerk.
In many ways, Kraftwerk is one of the few acts outside Devo for whom replicating a classic album, start-to-finish, seems in no way diminishing to its legacy but as much in line with the band’s deep-running mechanical conceptualism as the cold nostalgia of audiences more interested in old music than new. They were pretentious guys and, for similar reasons, it might be impossible to take a Kraftwerk tribute too seriously, and also exactly why a comedy-oriented Kraftwerk night is not only a good idea but totally necessary. But such high-minded thoughts were perhaps best left with ticketless fans outside MoMA as Ralf Hütter and company fired up their latest and greatest machines to reproduce Autobahn in its entirety—or perhaps the Showroom Dummies/NT show (“Brooklyn’s Dummest Kraftwerk Tribute Band”) scheduled for the Gutter on Friday. Only one comedian made the inevitable Krautrocapella joke about a 20-minute vocals-only version of “Autobahn.” None had the chutzpah to go through with it.
The noiseniks—Pteradactyl’s Matt Marlin on drums, Parts and Labor’s Dan Friel and Jonas Reinhardt’s Jesse Reiner on synths—were were primarily confined to backing duty to singing comedians and occasionally very straightforward pop takes. Introduced in a Speak & Spell-style computer voice (okay, that was pretty funny), stand-up Kurt Braunhofer came out as “by far the most Teutonic of the group” and delivered “Neon Lights” in a tuxedo, occasionally jumping to a (funny?) falsetto, and eventually stripping to a union suit lined with glowsticks, dancing around the stage, and being carried to the back of the room—all of which at least gave Marlin, Friel, and Reinhardt a chance to stretch out. Perhaps the most thoughtful fusion of humor and music was Corn Mo, who didn’t try to be funny at all. An occasional Axl Rose stand-in with golden pipes and a perennial one-man-band accordion-popster, the Texas-born Mo knows the tribute circuit well. Tackling “The Robots” by himself, his accordion’s powerful bass drones and the cymbal attached to his foot handling most of the punchlines until his voice unmasked itself midway through to an audible gasp from the crowd.
Billed as Free Kitten[esque], Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon and Pussy Galore’s Julie Cafritz took the stage minus Yoshimi P-We but with Magick Markers’ Pete Nolan on drums, and offered no punchlines at all, and no synthesizers either. Covering a 1971 radio session-only tune, “Heavy Metal Kids”—from an early edition of the band with future Neu! members Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger—Nolan slopped up Dinger’s proto-motorik beat into a platform for Neil Youngian guitar torrents from Gordon and Cafritz. Like most other acts, they wrapped up quickly. Unlike most others, a bit too quickly. All too soon was the all-star finale, which involved live band karaoke, Braunhofer playing air drums, and Dave Hill slowly removing his shirt. Kraftwerk co-founder Florian Schneider would be rolling over in his grave, if he wasn’t still alive and sitting out the current version of Kraftwerk for interpersonal reasons.
As IP, though, Kraftwerk did the trick, perhaps as much to the “You are waiting in the queue” meme-ready message of would-be ticket site ShowClix as for the music itself. Showroom Dummies/NT will have their chance on Friday, and Juan Atkins (Saturday) and Francois K (Sunday) will take to the P.S. 1 courtyard this weekend. Non-literal Kraftwerk tributes will continue at far less crowded clubs every night in Brooklyn, from now until at least the next reunion tour, beginning with Matt Marlin’s Pterodactyl tonight at Public Assembly. Oftentimes, there’s not much IP, but it’s got a good beat and you can dance to it.
Critical bias: Lured by noise, missed first few songs.
Random notebook dump: No comedy, no synths, no smiles.