Though I'd long had an aversion to concerts that were simply a guy or two on machines, with light show/video accompaniment, I saw Kraftwerk's concert tonight without any real trepidation. My girlfriend summed it up beautifully afterward, saying that yes, it was four guys standing behind keyboards with video playing behind them, but it was likely one of the greatest concerts you would ever have the good fortune to see. Indeed, I'm pretty sure it was the greatest thing I'd seen since Einstein on the Beach.
Performing a set composed mainly of The Mix and (perhaps perversely) two-thirds of Electric Cafe, the quartet powered through an entirely electronic set synced to an impressive 3-D video playing behind them. The shadows of the band members became an integral part of the visuals behind them, and loaned a surprising warmth to the entire concert, with the members seemingly dwarfed by the world created on stage, their work rendered oddly, beautifully tangible.
My familiarity with Kraftwerk's music isn't encyclopedic; indeed, quite a few tracks I knew by name I encountered for the first time. Well-known staples like The Robots and Computer World benefited from a 21st century digital sheen, while other new-to-me tracks became new friends (Neon Lights sounds like Gary Numan's entire career contained in a single, achingly beautiful song; similarly, the update of "Radioactivity" to include references to Fukushima gave it immediate poignancy, a sad portrait of how somethings never change).
There's a feeling that accompanies the technopop of yesterday, a strange nostalgia for a future predicted in its metallic rhythms and analog soundscapes, a future that never happened. Watching Kraftwerk now is to step backwards and forwards; though these are all 20th century songs remade with 21st century digital tech (a neat tension paralleled in the projected video, using state of the art technology to meticulously capture the feel of analog imagery), there's nothing retro about a Kraftwerk show. High-tech spectacle was never less static. And for all of the technology on display, the overall impression--from hearing these simple, gorgeous melodies played huge to the graceful solos executed as the band left one by one during the climactic "Music Non-Stop"--is a palpable, unifying, glorious humanity.