The iconic German electronic act Kraftwerk has been predicting the future and influencing music for more than 40 years. The heavily sampled group, which is stylized as a band of robots and is led by founder and sole original member Ralf Hutter, has an audible, architectural consulting role in current styles like techno and hip-hop.
Before stopping in the Bay Area, Kraftwerk performed eight concerts last week at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, the stunning symphony center in Los Angeles designed by Frank Gehry. Diehard fans from Northern California and beyond flew to Southern California to watch some (or even all) of these special performances, each of which were held in 3D and included special collectible glasses. One enthusiast dubbed the cultural adventure "Kraftweek."
Each of the LA shows included the entirety of a full-length album followed by a selection of Kraftwerk's best known international anthems ("Trans Europe Express," "The Model," "Radio-Activity," "Numbers," "Tour de France," "Autobahn," "The Robots"). The arrangement was different for each show and all of the visuals were expansions upon common space and robot themes that have been used in Kraftwerk films and videos since the early Eighties, an elegant evolution of an unwavering theme.
The three concerts at Oakland's Fox Theater that followed on March 23-25 were different by design since no full-length albums were performed and there was the addition of standing general admission on the floor (reserved seating was in the balcony). They were also different in experience — it was hard not to jump out of the Walt Disney seats during the many uptempo moments, but it wasn't allowed at those shows.
There was a tradeoff to standing, especially for the vertically challenged: The three dimensional effects didn't make as much of an impact from obscured views while standing at a height below the projections. (Also, we saw someone faint and get wheeled out.)
But more importantly, hundreds of fans in Oakland got the wonderful chance to dance, and the audience rewarded the robots with louder and freer screams and applause than were heard in Los Angeles.
The Bay Area gave proper respect to a highly influential act.