Kraftwerk : Detroit : 1998

kw-cropIn the summer of 1998 Kraftwerk landed on the Motor City. This was only the second time they would perform in Detroit in their entire 30+ year career. The first time was 12 years prior. Needless to say, the tickets were expensive and they sold out in 2 days.

Detroit has always been deeply involved with Electronic Music. I can still remember hearing Kraftwerk put into the mix by local radio legends, The Electrifying Mojo and The Wizard.  Both mixed Electro with Hip Hop and Soul late nights on urban radio stations in the early 80s. The Kraftwerk song, “Numbers” was popular in dance halls and frequently featured on Detroit’s local TV dance programs like Contempo and The New Dance Show.

Kraftwerk has a special place in the hearts of Detroiters. For this reason, they could have played any venue in town, even the largest stadiums and still packed the house.

They chose to play The State Theater on Woodward Avenue. The State is a medium-sized historic venue and offers only general admission.

Upon arriving I was astonished by the diversity. Like myself, I sensed that the rest of the concert goers viewed this as a “once in a lifetime” event. There was no visible majority.  Indeed a full cross-section of classes, cultures, ethnicity, vocation and fans of any given music genre. I have never in my life witnessed anything like the turnout for Kraftwerk.

Detroit is a segregated metropolitan zone with sectarian undertones. Kraftwerk should be commended greatly for successfully reaching out to and uniting a total cross-section of our region. No other band to my knowledge has ever been able to speak to the masses in this way.

While I was there I saw goths, punks, rockers, rastas, G’s, ravers, nerds, dorks, GQ’s, hippies,  preps, proletariat and bourgeoisie. People were dressed to display various ethnicities and every imaginable music and art genre. I even saw a 50-something wearing a yarmulke talking to his pre-teen grandson about the band. Outside I talked to some folks who drove all the way from Quebec City. Everyone was excited to be there together to see Kraftwerk.

Kraftwerk had created a “Rainbow Gathering”.  It was beautiful.  It was good for our community.

The curtains rose to reveal what looked like the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. The endless audio gear fitted nicely in crafted racks that reached to the ceiling.  Just above each of four band members hung a video monitor which displayed often intentionally low resolution graphics.

There were keyboards behind their laptop screens each on a sleek stand. They seemed to be tweaking knobs and pushing buttons all night. It was obvious that they were not just staging an act to a prerecorded tape. Their showmanship did not come from any of the usual band posturing but from a calm demeanor with subtle facial expressions. The sound was all-encompassing similar to a IMAX or THX movie theater.

No one danced. It was more like watching fireworks. Everyone stood at full attention with jaws dropped in total amazement. The subtlest cue from the band was met by cheers. When the first text message “Computer World” flashed across the monitors, the crowd just exploded.

The strongest performance was “Trans Europe Express”. It also happens to be one of the most sampled songs of all time. The song was performed in a version I had never heard.  The visuals included old black and white railroad films that were hypnotic to watch.

Then the curtain fell, but the show was not over. Shortly they rose again to reveal the Kraftwerk robots. The song played but the band was not in sight.  We were treated to a light show robot ballet. The mechanical robots did not do anything spectacular but the effect was perfect. They moved from side to side as their hydraulic arms flapped up and down. The hyper lighting effects were magic. Each robot featured a wax model of each band member’s head.  It was a bit comical.  Will the robots replace the band someday?

Then they went off stage again but the crowd refused to accept that the show was over. By the end of the night, Detroit managed to get the almighty Kraftwerk to perform a total of  four encores! The show ended and everyone was excited. I hope to see them again some day.

[ review by Alex Velocity ]

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