Tag Archives: kraftwerk

Kraftwerk in a 3D World

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGerman electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk brought their 3D show to the Fox Theater in Oakland March 23, 2014, followed by two additional nights at the venue. The hook for this tour is that it includes high definition 3D films synchronized to their music. Upon arrival we were each given cardboard 3D glasses which actually worked very well. It was a fantastic show highlighting most of the best material from Kraftwerk’s long career, which dates back to 1970, with the added bonus being the impact of the visuals.

As for the performance, the four band members stood nearly motionless across the stage in front of small keyboards, playing a few notes live, with most of the music pre-programmed for the evening, as has been the norm with many acts in this genre. The band themselves wore body suits adorned with white parallel lines reminiscent of Tron, and these along with their keyboards became part of the visual impact during the show. Given the band members lack of movement, these sights were key to keeping the audience engaged and entertained.

The songs playeOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAd included the title track from each of their primary albums, including “Autobahn,” “Radioactivity,” “Trans-Europe Express,” “The Man-Machine,” and “Computer World,” along with the single “Tour De France” and selections from Electric Cafe.  In addition to these nearly all of The Man Machine and Computer World albums were performed. These were programmed to match the 3D visuals which included images and artwork portraying the topics covered in the lyrics, whether robots, Volkswagens on the autobahn, trains, a pastiche of neon signs or cyclists.  Some aged black and white films were also used effectively particularly during “Tour de France” and “The Model.”  The 3D effects were of the highest quality, with lyrics, numbers, and various objects pointed towards the audience to capitalize on the format.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAVocals are delivered by the only remaining original member of the band, Ralf Hutter, in a flat passionless manner, sometimes via vocoder, which has always been a very effective way of reinforcing the image of machine produced music, and the man machine connection.  In contrast, the melodies are simple, warm, and often beautiful, such as heard on “Neon Lights” or “Computer Love.”  Though credited with influencing the techno and electro movements, this is more pop than dance, and there is a bit of meaning in their art to ponder as well.

In a fun gesture, at the end of the track “Spacelab” a UFO was shown descending in front of the marquee for the Fox Theater, to enthusiastic applause.  After so many years, Kraftwerk still resonate as pioneers of the electronic music form, and their live shows are a testament to them staying current, relevant, and part of today’s 3D world.

Warm Blips and Clicks

1st_commercial_Moog_synthesizerDuring the time I was learning to play piano (badly) in my youth, I was witness to the rise of modern electronic music.  In 1968 we purchased Switched on Bach by Wendy Carlos and my love affair with the Moog analog synthesizer and the artists who mastered it began.  That same year, my older brother bought me The Beatles White Album for Christmas, and I also heard Dick Hymen’s first electronic album which included the single “”Topless Dancers of Corfu” – a fun bit of pop that showcased many of the sounds possible from analog synthesizers.  This early combination of adventurous rock, classical, and electronic sounds became the basis for much of progressive rock music, from expert practitioners in bands such as Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Genesis and Yes. The sonic depth of this music, and that of their contemporaries was trans-formative – the sound fused to the analog past, and electronic future where all things might be possible.  The sounds made by those early synths still seems fresh today, and is still incorporated in all kinds of music.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the mid 70s the all-electronic music of Kraftwerk came to my attention via their first several albums, most notably The Man Machine from 1978. As we entered the 80’s I was primed for a new wave of bands that employed synths to drive pop and goth music of the period.  Of the groups from the era, several, like Kraftwerk, used only synth and vocals in their work.  None were more prolific and successful than the musical genius Vince Clark.  Vince was a founding member of Depeche Mode, Yazoo (Yaz), and Erasure – the latter still writing and recording today.  Of these, Yazoo holds a special place as being a perfect blend of pop, soul, and cold clear electronic music.  Singer Alison Moyet provided the vocal warmth with her powerful, soulful delivery on tracks spanning their two releases Upstairs at Eric’s (1982) and You and Me Both (1983).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAlison’s post Yazoo work is varied.  All of her releases since Yazoo have charted in the UK, as she graces any music that backs her massive powerful voice.  This year she released The Minutes, a welcome return to electronic music and an excellent album in it’s own right.  Her tour led to three dates in the states – we hit the San Francisco stop at the Fillmore auditorium, November 14. The show was wonderful, highlighting the new record and long solo catalog along with a handful of Yazoo tracks. Alison’s voice is undiminished, lending a warmth to all the blips, clicks, and patchwork of traditional synth sounds, still fresh and compelling ear candy after all these years.

A’la Mode

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe great Depeche Mode played the Shoreline theater last week to a sold out crowd of devoted rapturous fans.  I was there for every note with my soul mate and a couple of our best friends.  This is a band that’s truly weathered time well – singer David Gahan still bumps, grinds, and belts out the deep notes with aplomb.  Singer multi-instrumentalist and principal writer Martin Gore raises the stakes whenever he comes out to be front and center, most notably on this tour performing slow acoustic versions of “But Not Tonight”, “Home” and “Shake the Disease” hitting all the best long vibrato soaked tones perfectly. Andy Fletcher does his low key celebration in back.  A drummer and second instrumentalist round out the band for their live shows as they have for just over 10 years now.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe group was out to promote their latest release “Delta Machine” – an album that’s surprisingly good for writers so well into their careers.  From the opening track, also played to start the show, “Welcome to my World” to “Angel”, “The Child Inside (another Martin slow burner) and “Soothe My Soul” (a classic form for David’s best delivery) they covered many of its high points, all of which fit nicely in their catalog.  These new tracks serve to update the Depeche Mode sound, even hinting in parts at dub-step electronica, a variant on the form they practically invented along with German forbearers Kraftwerk.

Of the later work, only 2005’s “Playing the Angel” was represented with two tracks – “A Pain That I’m Used To” and “Precious.”  The rest of the set list focused on the band’s 80’s and 90’s hits including 1981’s “Just Can’t Get Enough”, skipping to 1985’s “Shake the Disease”, 1986’s “Black Celebration”, “A Question of Time”, and “But Not Tonight”, 1987’s “Never Let Me Down Again” (encore with everyone’s arm wipers to augment it), 1990’s “Enjoy the Silence”, “Personal Jesus”, “Halo”, and “Policy of Truth” (all practically required for these shows), 1993’s “Walking in My Shoes” and Martin’s tear jerker “Home”, now a perennial favorite from 1997. Not as fond of the other selection from “Ultra”- “Barrel of a Gun” which ended up being one of several instances where the drummer drowned out the founding members – a minor complaint, but here’s one fan wishing they more frequently dispense with the live drums.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe whole event proved that Depeche Mode has remained not only commercially viable, but in rare form artistically, delivering their sometimes gloomy but more often celebratory wares, aged appropriately and served up hot.