Friday’s bucket-list show at the Midland theater was as exciting and memorable as it was static.
Kraftwerk, electronic-music pioneers from Düsseldorf, Germany, drew 1,500 fans, most of whom were seeing the band for the first time. The 2-hour, 20-minute show was a lavish journey through Kraftwerk’s music catalog, all of it performed before a wall of video images rendered in 3-D.
But instead of a kinetic dance party, the show was a sit-down affair. Wearing the white-framed, cardboard 3-D glasses distributed beforehand, audience members resisted the strong urge to get up and dance, or at least move, and instead sat back, watched the images and visuals fly off the screen toward them and let the music cascade over them.
The band members, including its co-founder Ralf Hütter, were almost motionless the entire show. Dressed in matching skin-tight bodysuits, all four stood stoically at consoles that hid their gear, looking like candidates poring over notes before a political debate. All the energy came off the enormous screen behind them and from the music, which, sounded both nostalgic and futuristic and revealed the vast number of bands and artists it deeply influenced.
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Songs were arranged in suites that represented albums recorded during the band’s heyday from the mid-1970s through the late 1980s. They opened with five tracks from “Computer World,” released in 1981, starting with “Numbers,” which was accompanied by a hail of lime-green digital numerals popping off the screen. “It’s More Fun to Compute” featured blasts of pulsating colored lights; “Pocket Calculator” featured a large, old-school calculator and a disembodied hand punching its numbers.
There were many highlights. “Autobahn,” the band’s biggest “hit,” was one. So was the entire “Tour de France” suite, which included black-and-white footage of the race circa the 1950s-ish. During the burbly and ambient “Spacelab,” a satellite view of North America homed in on Kansas City and a shot of its downtown.
Other highlights: the lambent disco-hymn “Neon Lights,” “Radioactivity,” a bracing anti-nuclear anthem, and “Musique Non Stop,” the closer. During “The Robots,” the first encore, those consoles were manned by four robotic avatars that engaged in some clumsy choreography — the only demonstrative movement on stage all night.
All those visuals provided some charm and levity, but the star of the show was the music, some of it now more than 40 years old. Almost every song laid bare its blueprint and evoked the ensuing styles and eras that Kraftwerk so heavily influenced, from post-punk to techno, hip-hop and synth-pop. This show was a retrospective, and the quaint visuals reinforced that feel, but most of the music felt as contemporary and innovative as ever.
Numbers; Computer World; It’s More Fun to Compute; Computer Love; Pocket Calculator; Metropolis; The Man-Machine; Spacelab; The Model; Neon Lights; Autobahn; Airwaves; Intermission/News; Geiger Counter; Radioactivity; Electric Cafe; Tour de France: 1983, 2003 (Etape 1), 2003 (Etape 2); Trans Europa Express/Metal on Metal/Abzug. Encore: The Robots; Aero Dynamik; Planet of Visions; Boing Boom Tschak; Techno Pop; Musique Non Stop.