Geeks of electro-pop meld man, machine in mind-blowing show
Special to The Seattle Times
Industrial. Mechanical. Metallic. "Robo-pop." Minimalist. Video-game blippy. OK, now that all that's out of our systems, let's talk about what Kraftwerk really are: gigantic geeks. And after their performance Monday night, I mean that in the most endearing way possible. The nearly sold-out crowd at the Paramount began thundering and whooping their approval of Kraftwerk's legendary nerdiness before the lights even went down. Their cheering rose to a fevered pitch as a belching bass vocoder began bellowing out the group's name and the curtain came up to reveal four skinny, middle-aged men in pencil-thin black suits poised stoically before their various sound machines.
The show opened with "The Man-Machine," a collection of electro-motifs and computerized pops that sounded like that noise your grandpa makes with his thumb and his cheek run through a synthesizer. The piece is the title track from Kraftwerk's precedent-setting 1978 album, a famously inhuman work created almost entirely electronically and perpetually blurring the line between humans and technology. In other words, yes, they are men, and yes, they are also machines — and if you didn't get that from the lyrics or the music, it was also reinforced by an immense screen flashing the words "man" and "machine" in German and English.
Clearly, Kraftwerk has a knack for stating — and restating and restating — the obvious. "Radioactivity," a piece that's about (what else?) radioactivity, paired Morse code-like overtones with the ominously over-pronounced names of nuclear hotspots (Chernobyl, Harrisburg, etc.). And the groundbreaking hit "Autobahn" (guess what it's about) opened with the gunning of an electronic motor, layered on some evocative lyrics ("wir fahr'n fahr'n fahr'n auf der Autobahn" — we're driving, driving, driving on the Autobahn), and supplemented all of it with images of roads, cars and driving.
This penchant for beating the listener over the head with a piece's concept is the essence of Kraftwerk's brilliant charm, a feat of clean, German craftsmanship. Monday night's selections from their latest album, "Tour de France Soundtracks" (yes, it's about biking), were, of course, thematically predictable: the well-timed huff and puff of a biker's breathing, the rhythmic grinding of a chain, and footage of bike races. But these pieces, infused with both vintage Kraftwerk and the generation of electronic music they inspired, also speak to the group's relevance today. Leave it to a bunch of geeks to blow the world's mind with swirling, shimmering electro-pop.
Rachel Devitt: email@example.com.
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