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Eagles Ballroom
Milwaukee, WI
April 20, 2008
Kraftwerk Kraftwerk

Story and photos by Matt Schwenke

When Kraftwerk first began their journey into electronic music more than 40 years ago, they were so far ahead of their time that, now in the 21st century, their minimalist sound, heady wordplay and peculiar performances have become as relevant as ever. Laying the groundwork for just about every form of electronic music, Kraftwerk were without founding member Florian Schneider (the group, as is their trademark, has remained tight-lipped as to why) on their U.S. tour, which is currently only four dates ending at Coachella, but the quartet of founding member Ralf Hutter, mainstays Henning Schmitz, Fritz Hilpert and newcomer Stefan Pfaffe filled the ballroom with impressive sights and sounds.

Opening the show with curtain closed for "The Man Machine," four backlit figures appeared behind computer consoles, and when the curtain opened, four identically-dressed men occasionally peeked at the crowd amidst a host of double-clicking, key taps and dial twists, and without more than a few head bobs and foot taps, many a gaze were glued upon the electronic purveyors and the fascinating video that accompanied them for the rest of the show. Early standouts included the 1974 hit "Autobahn," in which a surround sound speaker setup had the crowd feeling like they were in the middle of a Nascar track, the deep groove of "Vitamin" in which images of pills continually dropped down the screen, and the early 80's track "Tour de France," in which the first half was performed as a recent remix and the second half was laid out in original and more minimalist fashion, but amped up with beautiful graphics laid over film that syncopated precisely with the music.

As audience members were left to contemplate Hutter's sparse vocal lines that included very few words and the imagery on the screens, a new version of "Computerlove" (that is more akin to the co-written Coldplay track "Talk"), the French version of "Les Mannequins" and an altered version of "Radioactivity" kept some jaws dropped while inspiring others into feverish dance. Perhaps at the group's most animated, the abrasive power of "Trans-Europe Express" provided the most movement on stage before the four exited and let their robot counterparts take over for "The Robots," which included the eerie robot ballet behind the consoles.

Returning to the stage in glowing grid suits, chest-shaking thumps were pounded out in the exploratory "Elektro Kardiogramm" while "Music Non Stop" would send the group off the stage one at a time before Hutter only remained. Politely saying "good night" before taking his bow, the simple gesture from Hutter stripped away the cold mechanical feel of the group's persona for a split second and left the crowd with heavy thoughts about man and machine-- or at least the simple hook from "Computerlove" stuck in their heads as they bounced out of the venue.

Kraftwerk Milwaukee setlist 4/20/08:
The Man Machine
Planet of Vision
Numbers / Computerworld
Homecomputer / It's More Fun to Compute
Prologue / Tour de France
The Model
Neon Lights
Les Mannequins
Trans-Europe Express / Abzug / Metal on Metal
The Robots (with "robot ballet")
Elektro Kardiogramm
Music Non Stop

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