Saturday, July 20, 2024

Concert Review: Kraftwerk 3D at Olympia Theater

Germany’s Kraftwerk is one of the few acts in pop history that can rightly be credited with reinventing music from the ground up—from building custom-made Vocoders to patenting electronic drum kits and other game-changing synthesizers. So it’s only natural that the group’s innovative approaches to music production would extend to live consumption as well: Thus, the perennially relevant electronic pioneers brought the first 3D concert I’ve ever seen to Miami’s Olympia Theater last night.

Beards, glasses and piercings aplenty filled the historic opera house for the sold-out 8 p.m. show (a second performance followed at 11:30), each attendee receiving 3D glasses—the vintage folded paper kind from the Golden Age of kitsch cinema. There was much loitering around the merch table before the performance, but presumably few purchases: I heard a common refrain of “$35 for a T-shirt?! Hell no!”

The room darkened and the synthesizers kicked in a few minutes after 8, with many stragglers arriving during the first few songs; German time, needless to say, is not Miami time. Kraftwerk opened the set with “Numbers,” off of “Computer World,” while 3D numerals beamed from the projector behind them. The numbers drifted in front of the screen, so close you could grab them, and it became instantly apparent that Kraftwerk’s embrace of 3D animation is one of hand-drawn nostalgia, not 21st century CGI. While today’s 3D is used mainly for depth-of-field realism, Kraftwerk has rediscovered the in-your-face novelty that made the technology so awe-inspiring in the first place.

The animation changed with each career-spanning song, running the gamut from abstract lines and color spectrums—much of it conjuring circuitry, coding and waveforms—to literal representations of the lyrics. “Home Computer” featured, of course, a home computer, one of those boxy old IBM desktops that swallowed the entire desk. “The Model” featured vintage, splotchy black-and-white film clips of fashion models. “Spacelab” took us, naturally, to outer space, situating us in a spaceship gazing through a window at the planets (It look curiously similar to the space coaster in Regal Cinemas’ preshow introduction). The video ended with a deft local touch—a UFO landing outside the Olympia Theater—that exhibited a rare sense of humor from these uber-serious Germans.

Some of the video was as retro-cheesy as planetarium squiggles, and yet the experience was far cooler in its quaint hipness than any kind of 3D I’ve seen anywhere this side of Jean-Luc Godard’s “Goodbye to Language.” The minimalist highway anthem “Autobahn” was simply entrancing, an elegant epic that integrated everything from videogame graphics from a driver’s point of view to images of lane dividers swishing past in a blur to musical notes floating from the car’s speakers like balloons.

This, combined with extraordinary performances of the group’s other travel tributes—“Tour de France” and “Trans Europe Express”—gave new meaning to the term “road hypnosis.” “Radioactivity,” meanwhile, proved the Kraftwerk can be chilling when they want to. The band added references to the Fukushima meltdown to its lyrics about famous nuclear disasters, while the universal symbol for radioactivity flooded the screen with intense, droning dread.

Through it all, Ralf Hutter, Fritz Hilpert, Henning Schmitz and Falk Grieffenhagen stood like sentinels at lighted podiums, uniformly dressed like futuristic convicts, pushing buttons and turning knobs on their synthesizers with Teutonic precision while their heads blocked the bottom of the images, like on “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” The seeming simplicity of their performance belied the care and effort that went into producing such an extraordinary audiovisual marriage; if there was a technical flaw or mistimed note anywhere during the concert, I certainly couldn’t detect it.

The group saved its most riveting surprise for the encore, a performance of “The Robots” in which the live musicians were replaced by animatronic lookalikes in red collared shirts with lit-up ties. Medium shots of their giant robot heads filled the screen behind them, their choreographed arm movements reaching toward us. These avatars, in fact, moved onstage a lot more than their counterparts: Leave it to these real-life showroom dummies to react less than actual robots, while keeping us enthralled for every blissful second.

SET LIST

  1. Numbers
  2. Computer World
  3. It’s More Fun to Compute/Home Computer
  4. Pocket Calculator
  5. The Man Machine
  6. Spacelab
  7. The Model
  8. Neon Lights
  9. Autobahn
  10. Airwaves
  11. The Voice of Energy
  12. Electric Café
  13. Radioactivity
  14. Ohm Sweet Ohm
  15. Tour de France
  16. Trans Europe Express

ENCORES

  1. The Robots
  2. Aero Dynamik
  3. Planet of Visions
  4. Boing Boom Tschak/Techno Pop/Musique Non Stop

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