Kraftwerk June 28, the Chelsea.
I’ve passed on movies altogether so as not to endure 3D, such is my aversion to that typically clumsy gimmickry. Yet when Chelsea ushers passed out 3D glasses before Saturday’s concert inside the Cosmopolitan, I placed them over my eyes without complaint. If any act has earned the right to pilot its technological course, it’s Kraftwerk, after all.
While much of the world gawked at guitar solos and shirtless frontmen in the early 1970s, Germans Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider quietly lit the fire for a musical revolution. Their signature sound—synthesized, programmed, Vocoded—has widely been credited as the wellspring from which modern electronic pop has flowed. Schneider exited the group in 2008, but Hütter continues to steer their celebrated creation to locales familiar and previously unvisited. Las Vegas fell into the latter category until Saturday, when Kraftwerk made good on one of the all-time least likely Strip bookings (and kudos to Cosmo for taking the risk, which was rewarded with a solid, though unsurprisingly shy of sold-out, showing).
Visuals have long played a key role in Kraftwerk’s performances, and I’ll concede, the 3D versions trumped the eye candy of my two previous encounters with the group, at Coachella 2004 and ’08. Images projected forth from a massive screen into the room—hands reaching for us, satellites flying at us, numbers tumbling toward us—in ways I’d never experienced at a concert (and no, Captain EO doesn’t count). Among many ocular highlights: gripping black-and-white footage of bicyclists racing through the mountains of “Tour de France,” a UFO soaring over Las Vegas in a localized version of “Spacelab” and a chilling scroll of cities affected by nuclear mishap during “Radioactivity,” with “Fukushima” a sad reminder of the ongoing threat to humankind.
Ultimately, though, I could have closed my eyes and still been transfixed. Song and song again, Hütter and his three tourmates—each standing behind a podium, dressed in bodysuits that lit up and changed colors—reminded us of Kraftwerk’s icy power, its melodic foresight and its absolute conviction in its thematic content. Opener “The Robots” set it up, blurring the line between man and machine; the irrefutably gorgeous “Computer Love” warmed our hearts; “Trans-Europe Express” chugged past mysteriously 37 years after its birth; and “Techno Pop” kept bodies in motion, two hours after the night began. Even when a track like "Autobahn" inched along at a slower pace than most of the evening's bouncier fare, it commanded attention, not just for the throwback car-themed fun on the screen, but for its deliberately delicate details.
Best of all, through it all, Kraftwerk futurized the familiar, remixing, updating and augmenting with new flourishes to keep even the staunchest fans on their toes. By the time I see Hütter and company live again, I half-expect they'll have reached beyond 3D, too, to a new dimension altogether.
"It's More Fun to Compute"/"Home Computer"
"Prologue"/"Tour de France 1983"/"Tour de France 2003"
"Trans-Europe Express"/"Abzug"/"Metal on Metal"
"The Telephone Call"
"Boom Boom Tschak"/"Techno Pop"/"Musique Non Stop"
"Planet of Visions"