German 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 played 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.
Vocals 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.