Kraftwerk At Walt Disney Concert Hall
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By Jamie Harvey
As I was handed a red envelope with the crisp words "Man-Machine" on it, my skin prickled. I descended the stairs to my seat, drinking in the depth of the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall. I had wanted to see a show inside its bubbly walls for ages, and it was smaller than I imagined. Projected on a screen hovering over the stage were four pixelated kiosks.
I never thought I'd get to see Kraftwerk, though I felt I got close once when my favorite band, Nine Inch Nails, toured with a giant nod to the iconic German group's stage setup in the mid-'00s. But this would prove to be the year. On March 19, after I entered a complex lottery system to obtain tickets, I finally got the opportunity to see Kraftwerk, who were recently awarded The Recording Academy's Lifetime Achievement Award.
The lights dimmed as everyone put on their 3-D glasses, which were in the red envelopes given at the door. The sparse room was filled with the cold vibrations of heavy synths and as the curtain dropped there stood the four members of Kraftwerk — Falk Grieffenhagen, Fritz Hilpert, Ralf Hütter, and Henning Schmitz — at their respective helms. Wearing Tron-like bodysuits adorned with a grid and the words "The Man-Machine," the first song of the night, along with a series of shapes seemed to rise from the screen and pierce the room. I raised my hand to grab at them.
Moving into the set — which featured their 1978 classic debut The Man-Machine in its entirety — the coolest visuals of the night appeared during "Spacelab," when images of the Earth and satellites flew at us, and transformed into an amorphous shape that turned out to be the very building we were seated in. It was cool to be able to get lost in the visuals, because, frankly, there is not much to see while Kraftwerk perform. The quartet barely move, except for subtle leg taps to the beat that match their hands as they turn various knobs and sliders.
With six tracks, The Man-Machine is not a very long album, so we were treated to an array of additional Kraftwerk singles, including "Autobahn." That song and "Radioactivity" not only made me think of the influence Kraftwerk has had on many of the bands I listen to, but also their foresight on the state of the world and technology. Though the night had the trappings of an exuberant show, the visuals did not overwhelm the minimalist production. It felt both futuristic and retro, reminding me of the computer games of my youth while still carrying the timeless futuristic feel of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Finishing with a fan-favorite, "Musique Non-Stop," each member left the stage after pausing a moment in the spotlight. "Auf Weidersehen, see you tomorrow" were the only words spoken to the crowd as Kraftwerk closed out the night. And with that, we said goodbye.
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(Jamie Harvey lives in Los Angeles and is the rock community blogger for GRAMMY.com. She has attended and written about more than 500 shows since 2007. You can follow her musical adventures at www.hardrockchick.com.)