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Museum of Modern Art
Saturday, April 14
Better than: The ShowClix waiting room.
There was a roar that went up during the full stops between songs early in Kraftwerk’s Saturday-night MoMA set, the fifth of eight total (the seventh begins tonight). It started like applause but kept rising, thickening—there was no mistaking it. It wasn’t simple relief that we finally got into the damn building after the concert series’ well-publicized online ticket-sales flubs, or that (I hope) we didn’t have to pay $45,000 for one. It was more like gratitude, as if we were getting to shake hands with Thomas Edison: Thank you for inventing everything. OK, maybe not “everything,” but like James Brown or the Beatles or Bob Dylan, Kraftwerk’s impact is simply too big to measure.
Given the option of one show on the house, I went for the one featuring 1981’s Computer World, part three of an unfuckwithable trilogy preceded (in history and at MoMA) by 1977’s Trans-Europe Express and 1978’s Man-Machine. Having seen Kraftwerk twice before—Chicago 1998 (home in Minneapolis again, I was wearing the T-shirt on a downtown corner when an older African-American man stopped and asked where I’d gotten it, then explained: “I’m from Detroit”) and Seattle 2004 (I awoke next morning with a kidney stone)—I wasn’t expecting to be wowed, per se, not even when they handed me and everyone else in attendance a pair of 3D glasses. I loved Pina and Cave of Forgotten Dreams, too—not Hugo, thanks—but 3D is irritating as a rule. My hopes weren’t high.
Silly critic. Though the coolest 3D effect by far was watching how the lights projecting background images danced off the foreheads of the middle two men in the group—particularly when a stream of dazzling color pulsed away during the album’s big finale, “It’s More Fun to Compute”—the glasses really did give the presentation something extra. During the extended greatest-hits segment following Computer World‘s re-presentation, the ultra-clean highway lines, 1974-era cars, and soft but vivid color palette gleaming behind the group during “Autobahn” (about 12 minutes here, rather than the 21-plus of the LP version) made you wanted to dive into them, like the world’s friendliest game of Pole Position.
The music was slightly rearranged here and there: On record, Computer World lasts 34-and-a-half minutes, but presented live it was done in less than a half-hour. “Is there only one original member left?” asked one fellow to my right, meaning Ralf Hutter, standing far left with a headset mike. He is, a point made most emphatically at the show’s end, when the other three left Ralf alone onstage to the final strains of “Musique Non Stop.” But the design (cough) of Kraftwerk is such that it doesn’t feel like a cheat to call it a group. Hutter did little mini-robot moves during “The Robots.” Or maybe that’s just the way he dances—at the 1998 show, the four man-machines stood stage-front during one of the encores, as Hutter jerked stiffly away while performing “Pocket Calculator” on handheld devices. It wasn’t in 3D, though, or at a museum. It felt momentous then, too.
Critical bias: LOL
Celebrities spotted: Mike Myers (Dieter! “Now is the time on Sprockets when we dahnce!”), Terry Richardson.
Random notebook dump: (During “Radio Activity”) “Maybe we don’t need to hoot for an intro fact about skin cancer, there, guy.”