It’s been more than 40 years since Kraftwerk last performed in Atlanta – Alex Cooley’s Electric Ballroom was the scene in 1975 – and while only Ralf Hütter remains as an original, the German electro-pioneers are as vital as ever.
At a nearly sold-out show at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre on Tuesday, Hütter was joined by Fritz Hilpert, Henning Schmitz, Falk Grieffenhagen and a scene-stealing video screen for a return performance that was such a cinematic experience, their synthesized music was rarely the sole focus.
There’s only so much electronic monotony anyone can take, and Kraftwerk (originally Hütter and Florian Schneider, who departed the group in 2008) excels at visual ingenuity. The combination of glow-in-the-dark body suits (and kudos to Hütter for pulling that off at age 70), 3-D graphics (glasses were handed out at the door) and stunning video dazzled and mesmerized.
The galloping beat powering “Spacelab” was shared with footage of a spaceship cruising through footage of downtown Atlanta and landing in front of an image of Cobb Energy PAC; the red and white graphics that zigzagged during “The Man-Machine” made it feels as if you were living inside an Atari game; and the sight of a car and the international logo for the “Autobahn” sent a wave of cheers through the crowd before the first funky, stretched notes of the song were finished.
Movement isn’t part of Kraftwerk’s game, and indeed the quartet studiously tended to their synthesizers, whether whizzing through “Numbers” or unraveling the sweet, lulling melody of “Neon Lights.”
Vocals aren’t really part of their repertoire, either, though Hütter offered vocoder-driven intonations during “The Man-Machine,” “The Model” and the heaving “Tour de France.”
But it’s impossible to listen to Kraftwerk unfurl a career worth of material and not mentally play the “who sampled that?” quiz.
Their influence is so vast, it not only colored the songs of ‘80s artists such as New Order, Depeche Mode and Human League, but traveled through to Madonna, Dr. Dre and most famously, Coldplay, who turned a few notes from Kraftwerk’s “Computer Love” into arena singalongs via their own “Talk.” Even a song such as “Metropolis” sounds like something Terri Nunn and Berlin might have sampled in their “Pleasure Victim” era.
Kraftwerk translates to “power station” and there would be little argument that the foursome doesn’t offer a compelling performance overflowing with audio and video power.
Considering that it took the group 40 years to return to Atlanta – and the fact that they only occasionally visits the U.S. for brief spurts – it’s a safe assumption that those in attendance will tuck this one away in the “special performance” category.