If we’re being perfectly honest, Kraftwerk didn’t even need to show up at the Keller Auditorium on Saturday night. The technopop pioneers from Dusseldorf could have given the entire two-and-a-half-hour performance over to their robotic proxies, instead of just doing so for one song (“The Robots,” natch) and there’s a good chance everyone in attendance would have been satisfied.
Furthermore, the four men who were in physical form this past weekend—founding member Ralf Hütter, along with Fritz Hilpert, Henning Schmitz, and Falk Grieffenhagen—likely would have been fine just standing onstage in their skintight, graph-paper-inspired outfits without lifting a finger. The rapturous response from the attendees would have been just as loud.
That’s in part because the 3D graphics blinking and zooming behind the quartet through the whole show at times rendered the four men as afterthoughts to the spectacle. But mostly, the mechanized quality of the group’s music since 1974 often didn’t need any hands to direct it. Hell, for most of the show, it wasn’t entirely clear what at least half of the folks onstage were doing, other than occasionally bobbing their heads and looking to Hütter for direction and encouragement.
Still, there is something visually striking about seeing the men of Kraftwerk set equidistant apart in a straight line, and all standing behind platforms fitted out with neon lights that pulsated and changed color to fit the mood of each tune. And the added human element only made the performance better. Hütter often fell behind the beat as he played the main melody of “The Man Machine” and, if my ears are right, flubbed at least one synth line of “Computer Love.” There was also the occasionally jarring glitch in the video playback during the set’s midpoint that briefly interrupted the flow.
Though it was mostly great, the show did drag in spots. Both “Autobahn” and “Tour de France” were fitted with long instrumental sections that, respectively, paid heed to the original 22-minute version and the re-recordings that the group did for the 2003 release Tour de France Soundtracks. The cure for this glut would have been simple, too: if we would have been able to dance. That’s not Kraftwerk’s fault at all. Putting on 3D glasses triggered something in the Portland audience’s collective brain that commanded, “Treat this like a theater performance or a film.” So, for as much as I wanted to get up and move a bit, my 6’5” frame would have been blocking a lot of people sitting behind me.
That’s a minor grievance, though, in the face of what was an otherwise amazing night. Hearing classics like “Numbers” and “The Model” booming out of a huge sound system is never a bad way to spend an evening. Nor is respecting how Hütter & Co. have added modern electronic dance music elements to some of their 30-year-old tunes. That, and the reverence with which the quartet was greeted, bodes well for the band’s future. All we need to do now is some new music. Your work isn’t done, Kraftwerk.