Kraftwerk’s ‘Computer World’ at Disney Hall, bringing technopop to LA

Kraftwerk pre-showThe excitement and joy among Kraftwerk fans could be felt hours before the show. People were tweeting about the show, and street performers took the opportunity to express their love for Kraftwerk and Electronica. Below, a video of two guys outside Walt Disney Concert Hall playing electronica prior to the show.

The show started just a few minutes after 7:30 p.m with the 1981 album Computer World. Prior to the show, everyone in the audience were given a pair of 3-D glasses that had been nicely tucked in a yellow envelope. The cover of the envelope displayed the retro computer with the faces of the (original) band members on the computer screen.

Kraftwerk-3D-glasses

Panorama view of Disney Hall prior to the concert
Panorama view of Disney Hall prior to the concert

The band, which sadly only consist of Ralf Hütter as the original member, were standing on the stage as the stage drape fell to the floor. There was a light projection of the classic red robot stance of the four members on the screen, which slowly faded into the number 1 through 8.

This show was dedicated to bring forward an exclusive modern interpretation of Computer World, which originally featured the songs Computer World, Pocket Calculator, Numbers, Home Computer and It’s More Fun To Compute.

A wave of applauses and shouts echoed throughout the concert hall.

Numbers were displayed on the screen, with an accompanying robotic voice “Eins, zwei, drei, vier, fünf, sechs, sieben, acht”. And the show started.

Their stage positions were same as usual, with Ralf Hütter to the far left, where he performs live keyboards alongside Henning Schmitz which plays most of the effects and electronic percussion. Next to Henning, we see Fritz Hilpert which is the electronic percussionist and effects guy. To the far right on stage, Falk Grieffenhagen monitors the projections and make sure that the tracks are synched up.

As the first part of the show progressed, I realized that they were mixing and tweaking as the songs were sequencing through the pre-recorded audio tracks. To me, it appeared as if most sound effects and samples were initiated by as Fritz Hilpert and Henning Schmitz put their musical flavors to the classic tracks on the fly. The set in the first segment of the show (Computer World) was: Numbers, Computer World, Home Computer and Pocket Calculator. This sequence of songs didn’t take more than 30 minutes, so I was surprised that this would be just a minor part of the entire show.

Overall, the impromptu interpretation of Computer World by the band left me puzzled whether the entire show would be continuing with the same style, or take a turn. I wish I felt a stronger musical bond between the “new” band members and Hütter. The organic flow that was presented, merely reflected a disruption rather than symbiotic harmony which, in my eyes, always has been one of Kraftwerk’s strongest attribution throughout the years.

In an interview last year, Hütter commented on the authenticity of their live performances:

“In the 70s there was more drumming and physical action in the music, but today it’s more sensitive,” he smiles. “We’re turning the knobs, we’re switching the switches, we operate the faders. We have all kinds of little gadgets.”

And I am sure that this hasn’t changed during the current tour. Kraftwerk has always to some extent played back their music on live performances, while “operating” the faders and knobs. Kraftwerk GIF

Fahn, fahn, fahn aus der Autobahn

As the first segment came to an end, the 3D screen faded into an animated and cartooney view of Autobahn. And boom, a blazing rush was felt through my body, as I realized that they indeed were going to play some iconic songs in addition to the less impressive first part of the show.

The order of songs that were played, if I recall them correctly, would be as follow:

Autobahn
Radio Activity
Trans Europe Express
The Robots
Spacelab
The Model
The Man Machine
Tour De France
Boing Boom Tschak
Musique Non-Stop

Some interesting references were included in Radio Activity, as I think it was one of the best songs during the performance. The 3-D screen showed names of nuclear meltdowns and atomic bombings, including Chernobyl, Harrisburg, Hiroshima and the most recent Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. The visuals started with random sound waves that were scrolling on the screen followed by a hand that was tapping morse code. This was the same visuals and music that the band has performed since 2012 at the No Nukes gig in Tokyo. The melody was accompanied with Ralf Hütter’s vocals in Japanese, and coinciding visual effects with Japanese words on the screen.

Another superb track was The Robots, which they performed with excellence. The live vocoder, sung by Hütter was flawless, and it seemed that

Musique Non-Stop ended the show

As the show came to its end, the band members took the opportunity to, one by one, flex their musical muscles by making an on-the-fly solo performance, tweaking their knobs and turning buttons and keypads. starting from the right, Falk took a few steps to his left where a spotlight was shining down on the stage. He thanked the audience with a bow which was followed by an applause by the audience. Shortly thereafter, Fritz started going crazy on his conductive pad (eh, ‘scuse my use of terminology) by adding some cutoff and resonator to the looping sound in Musique Non-Stop. After completing his insane part, he thanked the audience with a gentle bow and walked off the stage.

And then there was two men remaining on the stage.

Henning Schmitz, which had been doing some neat tricks on his single octave keyboard and mixer board took the opportunity and showed off his skills by doing some type of trigger pad action. He too, bowed and walked off the stage, and… there we had him. Ralf Hütter. He played a short closing solo prelude that wrapped up the final song (Musique Non-Stop.. TECHNO POP).

He, just like the others, walked off to the same cross-marked location on the stage, bowed to the audience and said “Good night, auf wiedersehen”. And those where the only words we heard, before the auditorium lights turned on.

Kraftwerk 'The Catalogue' post-show at Walt Disney Concert Hall
Kraftwerk ‘The Catalogue’ post-show at Walt Disney Concert Hall

And that was my experience from Kraftwerk’s fifth gig of The Catalogue tour (Computer World) at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, CA on Thursday, 20th March 2014.

What a great evening. To start off the Spring with a one-and-only Kraftwerk concert.

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  • Nice article. Thank you for your candid writing. I’m glad you enjoyed the show. I’ll be seeing them in Toronto and in Montreal next weekend!!

    Computer World is my favourite Kraftwerk album. I probably think the songs on The Man-Machine are as good or better, but I think Computer World is an amazing album because of how perfectly it flows, musically. Even though their reworks of everything generally sound really great, they seem to be done on a track-by-track basis (except Numbers/Computerworld and Tour De France 83/03). So they can perform “Computer World” by getting on stage and playing their reworks of all the songs, but they’re missing something, because that album is just … magical in its flow.

    Oh, and the “conductive pad” you refer to is indeed a conductive pad, but the common term for it is “ribbon controller”. I believe he’s using this product: http://www.doepfer.de/R2M.htm