Legendary onetime oddities Kraftwerk emerge at 9:30 Club making more sense than ever


German electronic music band Kraftwerk performed the first of two sold-out sets, accompanied by 3-D projections, Friday at the 9:30 Club. (Josh Sisk/For The Washington Post)
April 6

It’s an odd sight, a thousand or so concertgoers in paper frames. Balding electro fanatics and their kids standing next to shaggy 20-somethings, all with 3-D lenses, glued to a big screen. Turn toward what they’re looking at, and . . . still sort of odd: four balding electro fanatics in gridded spandex, standing over glowing podiums.

Behind these figures, sober-looking and erudite, a moving soup of 3-D polygons fades in and out of the screen. Filling the rest of this sold-out 9:30 Club space is noise that must have once sounded far stranger than it does now: rippling synth lines that have trickled into almost every facet of pop music today. Seeing Kraftwerk’s live performance Friday night, that all makes sense.

Kraftwerk formed in Düssel­dorf, Germany, when Florian Schneider and Ralf Hütter started working together. It was a project that used gated noise and performance art to explore the space between man and machine. Their first release was in 1970, but it wasn’t until 1974 that the group had a hit, with “Autobahn.” Early techno pioneers latched onto the sound in Detroit, hip-hop artists sampled their work in New York, and it got passed down through decades of influence.

And so the touring show began Friday with their 1978 cut “The Robots.” As plump notes plucked at the nerves of an audience on its tippy-toes, text that read “We Are the Robots” strobed between animated mannequins of the band (in case any other daft musicians had the notion that they were the true robots of electronic music). The 3-D effect on-screen was plain, but fans of Kraftwerk-inspired techno know that the best choices are sometimes the simplest. On the same stage, electronic musicians have set up elaborate laser rigs, blinding strobe sequences and confetti cannons. Seeing a spaceship fly slowly out of a screen — that’s what really pulls oohs and aahs from a crowd.

Hütter sang through what metallic vocal cords might sound like, pixelated lyrics about the proliferation of technology and its associated anxieties. These words and their surrounding melodies were as sharply focused as they’ve always been — Kraftwerk live sounds much like Kraftwerk recorded, with flourishes here and there — but, structurally and rhythmically, there was much range to the work. “The Man-Machine,” from 1978, for example, a leisurely electro groove that’s been sampled again and again, is a far cry from the swirling techno found on 2003’s “Tour de France Soundtracks.”

The set’s energy peaked as cyclists stormed on-screen. An up­tempo bass kick, filtered stabs, vocals and 3-D shading came together like a well-oiled . . . you know. But when it was all over, after the encore, the typically mechanic members of the band gathered at the front of the stage. Glowing in the reflection of their fans, the humans behind the music took a well-deserved bow.

Yenigun is a freelance writer.

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