Future Classic: Kraftwerk Live at Myth
There is something inherently funny about the idea of Kraftwerk playing in a suburban venue surrounded by strip malls. No slight to Myth, which is as good a place as any to catch the electronic music luminaries, especially with one of the better sound and lighting systems in the metro area to do the group justice. It’s just that after about an hour and a half of experiencing an audio-visual spell of rapturous synthesized electro-pop from the band that defined its parameters, exiting the club and catching a glimpse of a Mattress store and a Carpet King on the immediate horizon feels a bit odd.
Then again, it's not a ridiculous kind of funny: not only did Kraftwerk do for synthesizers what the Beatles did for the guitar-bass-drums lineup – every digital-minded pop artist from Giorgio Moroder to Timbaland to LCD Soundsystem would be radically different without their influence – they helped popularize a somewhat tongue-in-cheek view of technology and science in music; anyone who can't see the humor in the deadpan android braggadocio of "Robots" needs to put away the granola for a while.
And to see Kraftwerk in the suburbs is only the most literal manifestation of how far their influence has spread, since every song they rolled out felt comfortable and familiar in all the contexts it's spawned since the '70s and '80s – Italo-disco, synth-pop, electro, techno, house, Southern bounce and dance-punk. Funny how such a technology-indebted music is a lot less prone to obsolescence than every major technology that accompanied it; any quaintness there was to be had in this show was in the film footage projected behind them, like the kitschy '50s fashion shoots during "The Model" or the low-polygon 3-D computer faces from the cover of Electric Café during "Boing Boom Tschak."
Kraftwerk's most famous songs have undergone an interesting aging process, or maybe an anti-aging process; "The Man-Machine" sounded both classic and futuristic on its original release in '78, looped under Jay-Z in '97 and opening the set tonight. Many of their songs were tweaked and ramped up a bit – including a remixed version of "Robots," which was performed as a sort of brief peak-of-set interlude by the band’s famous mechanical doppelgangers, and multiple mixes of their 1983 single "Tour de France," which was also the focus of their most recent album, 2003's Tour de France Soundtracks. But hearing songs from the latter record like "Vitamin" or "Aéro Dynamik" or "Elektro Kardiogramm" mixed in with classics like "Neon Lights" or "Computer World" or perennial set-closer "Musique Non-Stop" proves how little their music's actually needed to change – when your music sounded like the 21st century in 1977, it'll sound like the 21st century in 2008, too.
As for the musicians themselves, they've aged about as well as their music. They're all in their fifties and sixties, yet they carried themselves with a youthful enthusiasm – lead singer Ralf Hütter couldn't help but shake his ass during a few songs, albeit with feet firmly planted in front of the keyboard -- and they also managed to pull off the black leather tracksuit look remarkably well. (This carried over to their post-"Robots" outfits, which were basically the same suits only with glowing green wireframe piping. I bet Daft Punk have the same tailor.) As far as their setup, they’ve come a long ways from the old days where they performed on Moog synthesizers and banks of electronic drums, but while it might seem kind of startling to see laptops perched atop the four members' keyboards, it makes perfect sense: you wouldn't want the group that gave us Computer World to work any differently.