One of my best friends claims to be a huge Kraftwerk fan. Now, as we all know, whoever drives gets to control the CD player so it is odd that, in all our years of journeys all across this great land, he has never once played a Kraftwerk CD in the car.
It isn't even that he chooses not to because he may think that I don't like them. For starters, that is not the kind of friendship that we have as both of us take an inordinate amount of glee in making the other squirm. Secondly, what kind of friend would I be if you feel you can't play one of your favorite bands in your own car?!
So when he "surprised" me with tickets to see the band in Detroit, saying "Now you will know", I must admit that I was excited. I mean, it's fucking Kraftwerk, man.
Having done the same thing two weeks earlier upon eyeing and buying a Devo 45, I figured I'd try my luck again.
What I heard was not what I had expected, but not all that surprising. Instead of creatively juxtaposing their wild, unbridled sound with a robotic, clinical look, Kraftwerk actually sounded just as robotic and clinical as their appearance would lead you to believe.
Still, I knew that singles did not always provide an accurate glimpse into how a band truly sounds. Devo's "Whip It", for example, is actually one of the weaker cuts on the Freedom Of Choice album and, to my ears, only a small facet of what the band is all about.
So off I went to the local library. Keep in mind this was a conservative small-town Michigan library. Even so, it was where I'd checked out my first New York Dolls album so it would only make sense that it was also where I got my hands on Kraftwerk and Radio-Activity.
And two weeks later, when both albums were returned to the library, so ended my Kraftwerk journey.
Turns out the "Pocket Calculator"/"Dekato" single I'd initially purchased was entirely representative of Kraftwerk's computer-based pop deconstruction.
As a kid, sorry to say, I needed more.
Even so, I have continued to adore Kraftwerk's visual style. I mean, what's not to like?
Robotic humanoids making crudely simple music with the emotionless precision of an ATM printing out a transaction receipt is, oddly enough, visually interesting to me and, judging from the number of folks standing around me at the Movement Festival on this night in lovely Detroit, Michigan, I was not alone.
The enthusiasm with which the SRO crowd greeted the four figures walking onstage wasn't exactly "wild applause", but it was more fervent than you'd expect. At any other show, a few seconds later, lights would explode and a rock band would bust into its first high-energy song of the show.
At a Kraftwerk show, you actually hear people say "Hey, I saw one move!" and "Wow, did you see Ralf adjust that slider? Whew!" I've given up trying to figure out if they're kidding or not.
Mind you, the visuals taking place behind them are apparently enough to warrant frenzied applause at various moments during the performance! So we're applauding the video director now?
For anyone who has ever seen Blue Man Group, you will note a lot of similarities between their show and Kraftwerk's. Ah, but if all those four blue fellas did was stand there for the whole show, you'd be rightly bummed and probably ask for your money back.
Yet Kraftwerk inexplicably get away with just standing there which is why I struggle to even call it "performance art" because there is no actual performance. Add a video director's show reel to the mix, though, and suddenly it becomes an EVENT! There is APPLAUSE! And many t-shirts are SOLD!
In that sense, I walked away amazingly impressed and it dawned on me that the reason my friend doesn't play Kraftwerk in the car is because the music itself is superfluous to the visual aesthetic.