Friday, April 20, 2012
Review: Kraftwerk Performing Tour de France Soundtracks @ MoMA
Kraftwerk Performing Tour de France Soundtracks @Museum of Modern Art - April 17, 2012
Photo/Review: Dave Bolton
Deceptively Simple: Kraftwerk offer more than an Aural Soundscape.
I never win anything. This is something that I have had to live with for most of my life and I’m OK with it. Granted, I don’t play the lottery or even enter that many competitions but that is mainly because I know that I never win anything.
So when I received a call telling me that I had won two tickets to see Kraftwerk performing Tour de France Soundtracks at the MoMA, two things happened. I started grinning insanely and then I had to explain to my wife why I would be going down to New York on a Tuesday to see a band that (apparently) I never listen to or had ever shown any interest in.
To be fair, she had a point but I was able to dig into my big box of vinyl and pull out a 7-inch single of "The Model" that seemed to help with my argument that I needed to go to this gig. In my defense, Kraftwerk are a band that I have huge admiration for but had never really considered to be one of the bands that I had to see before I hung up my gigging shoes.
I admit that I don’t have a lot of their music in my collection and when I posted on Facebook that I was attending the last night of their residency at MoMA, the reactions ranged from outright jealousy to questions as to why I would want to put myself through an evening of “music made by Germans.”
Anyone who was lucky enough to see any of the eight performances will know that it was more than just seeing a gig. It was about the celebration of innovation, an evening spent in the company of musical pioneers. It was an aural installation, music as art and a privilege to be part of their vision.
The tone of the evening was set before the four members even took to the stage. It was also going to be something special but when you encounter Yoko Ono in the venue beforehand, there was the feeling that we were in the presence of musical royalty.
When it comes to music, I am more meat-and-two-veg than foie-gras. I like it to be loud and simple, I enjoy my eardrums being battered rather than caressed.
Kraftwerk take simplicity and invert it. They make music that sounds gentle but is really an assault on the senses and I am not a huge fan of hyperbole but…Kraftwerk were amazing.
It was astounding, enthralling, engrossing, immersive, extraordinary and wonderful. It was one of the best live experiences that I have ever been to. Two days later, I am still trying to get my head around what I saw and what I was a part of.
Four men dressed identically standing behind identical consoles (the assumption is that there were keyboards contained within) making minimal movements and performing music that washed over the audience in waves. When we had entered the building, we had been given 3-D glasses and, when the opening notes of "Tour de France" kicked in, the reason became obvious.
The music was only one part of the whole. This was a performance where you needed to be part of the sound, to not just feel it through the BPM but to have it visually presented to you. Every song was presented in three dimensions; you heard it, you saw it and you felt it. Kraftwerk is four individuals working in perfect harmony.
Tour De France Soundtracks is an homage to arguably the greatest cycle race in the world but the band pulled you into their world, the 3D giving the monochrome footage of riders and the French landscape an unexpected depth and fluid beauty. For 55 minutes, we were all “Pedaler en grand braquet” and “En danseuse jusqu'au sommet”, taking our "Vitamin," shaped by "Aero-dynamik," observing "La Forme" and monitoring our heart-rate through the "Elektro-Kardiogramm."
With the band barely moving, they let the music speak for them. Each night may have been dedicated to a different album but the second hour was taken up by tracks from other long-players. Kraftwerk have been around for so long, that you can forget how many truly influential songs they have in their Teutonic locker room, how they have the standard for electronic music that others try to imitate but often fail.
"Autobahn" was a feast of utilitarian visuals, classic German vehicles driving down the motorway towards unspecified destinations while the sound of the journey played in the foreground. "Trans-Europe Express" underscored the theme of travel; we had already seen cyclists and motorists, now we took to the railway tracks to move ourselves forward.
Kraftwerk have always been a band that have seemed detached from humanity, a celebration of the machine and not the man. Nowhere is this more obvious than in tracks like "The Robots" or "Computer World," songs that deal with the physical relevance of the digital space. If you watch the band and not the visuals, then you miss the message, they want your attention to be focused on more than just the beat of their drum (machines).
We explored "Radioactivity" together, we listened to "Musique Non Stop" and as part of a collective we even went "Boing Boom Tschak" (something that I never thought that I would do).
For two hours, the band performed. We watched, feet tapping and heads moving. At the end of the night, members of the band left the stage individually, a small bow acknowledging their contribution to the evening. Founding member Ralf Hutter was the last to depart, he thanked us and said goodnight.
He didn’t need to do that. We should be thanking him for letting us into his world. This was more than a gig; it was an experience and a rare chance to be intimate with influence. Being chosen to be part of it left me grinning all the way back to Boston.