Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Overrated as Fuck?: The 'Kraftwerk' Edition!


Make no mistake, on paper and in theory, I absolutely love Kraftwerk.

From 1974's Autobahn album, with its evocative Emil Schult cover art, the band's visuals from album to album have been singularly remarkable in their ability to capture that feeling of moving at the speed of sound while standing perfectly still.

There is no sense of urgency, no heartfelt paean to a lost love, no reliance upon well-worn American cliches.

Even when the band "sings" about the Autobahn, as they did on their surprise Top 40 smash of the same name, there is no feeling of rapidity or danger, only the cool, clean comfort of traveling in a quality automobile, which, to American ears, has been done before...and better ("Route 66", anyone?).

It is, we quickly realize, the world that is moving at breakneck speed while we are simply strapped to it, holding on for dear life in a variety of ways. Kraftwerk manage to capture both the drudgery of the workaday world in the burgeoning age of room-size computers and the gasp-inducing futurism that enabled us to put a man on the freakin' moon.

But, again, it had been the visuals that had pulled me in, and continued to do so. While I harbored a deep interest in these so-called "synthesizers" that replaced traditional drums, bass and guitar, no sound found on a Kraftwerk album ever made me go "Whoa!".

In fact, they seemed to be going quite a bit out of their way to adhere to some strict minimalist manifesto that, in hindsight, is quite admirable, but ultimately displeasing to the ear and, yes, to the human mind as well.

A friend of mine once commented that when I listened to Kraftwerk in the art space that we shared, I had this habit of continually cranking up the volume until it could go no higher. Upon being made aware of this, I realize that I was subconsciously looking for some edge in the music to hang my hat on, like when you hear a nice funk guitar line buried in a busy mix or a multi-layered vocal harmony.

Maybe if I crank it high enough, the nuances that seem to otherwise be missing at lower volumes (punch, energy, momentum) might magically appear.

Still, I find myself pulling out certain albums every so often just to see if I've finally matured enough to not so much appreciate the music, but to do so without so much damn effort.

There just isn't any situation in my life where I want to have to work at something this hard and not get paid.

Truth is, I'd be just as happy with a coffee table-sized book of Kraftwerk album art, leaving the rest to my imagination.

A few years ago, a client (I was in the tour merch biz at the time) dragged me to my first Blue Man Group show and then, a week later, I saw Kraftwerk two nights in a row (don't ask).

After doing so, I came to a striking realization: If you went to a Blue Man Group concert and all the performers did was stand completely still behind podiums while their backing tracks and pre-programmed video and lighting f/x played, you'd be absolutely furious, but at a Kraftwerk show, that shit gets a standing ovation.

My compliments to the video director, but how is any of this cutting edge?

Whether you're seeing U2, Kanye West or a Van Halen cover band, these days video screens make ants of anyone that performs and more effort seems to be paid to keeping the concertgoers' eyes on that screen more than the stage itself.

Keep in mind that Kraftwerk IS NOT AN ARENA ACT.

Their music does not translate to an arena setting. This entire exercise is all an excuse to sell t-shirts at $40 a pop because, at the end of the day, it is the "brand" known as Kraftwerk that we all love and want to be seen loving by, I dunno, other cool like-minded people.

Maybe one day a handsome (or foxy) stranger will compliment you on your Kraftwerk 3-D tour shirt

"Oh dude, you saw Kraftwerk?"

"In 3-D," you'll reply with a huge smile and then it will dawn on you that you paid $250 to watch a band that doesn't move, at all, perform in 3-D.

Who: Kraftwerk's video director
Where: Aragon Ballroom
When: July 21st, 2020
Tickets go on sale February 27th.

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