Kraftwerk wows fans in Detroit with eye-popping show

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

The mutual respect between Detroit and Kraftwerk was on full display Monday night when the German electronic music pioneers, playing their first Detroit concert in a decade, brought their stunning 3D tour to a packed Masonic Temple.

Kraftwerk has always had a special bond with the Motor City, as a direct line can be drawn from their experimental synth sound to Detroit’s techno movement. Several of the city’s top techno artists were on hand at the show on Monday, including Kevin Saunderson and Stacey Pullen.

They were among the several thousand fans who witnessed the thrilling two-hour, 20-minute show, in which the foursome — Ralk Hutter, Fritz Hilpert, Henning Schmitz and Falk Grieffenhagen — played in front of a video wall of eye-popping retro-futuristic images, rendered in glorious 3D (fans were given 3D glasses upon entry — the cardboard kind, like the ones worn at movie houses in the 1950s).

Kraftwerk performs at the Masonic Temple on Thursday.

Most of the images projected behind the group were simple: Rows of numbers (during the opener, “Numbers”), images of cars (“Autobahn”), pictures of clip art from what looked like the tech section of the 1981 J.C. Penney catalog (“Pocket Calculator”). The images were clean, drawn with simple lines and illustrated with a basic color palate, like they could have been made on an early Macintosh. The stage lighting was immaculate, illuminating the four musicians just enough and never distracting from the backdrop.

The four Kraftwerkers wore skin-tight light up suits, like something out of “Tron,” and stood behind small individual stations that were like debate podiums. Fans were never privy to what they were doing back there — they could have been shopping on Amazon for all anyone knew — but they played crisp, tight electronic jams that blurred the lines between man and machine, humanity and technology, and whose influence could be seen in everyone from Juan Atkins to Daft Punk to Jay Z.

Fans wear 3D glasses during Krafterk's concert at the Masonic Temple on Monday.

The crowd was receptive and appreciative throughout, and lit up during “Spacelab” when a video showed satellite images of Michigan with a pinpoint over Detroit. (Later in the song, a flying saucer hovered over an image of the Masonic Temple itself.) Later, during “Planet of Visions,” the Kraftwerk-Detroit bond was spelled out explicitly, with the words “Detroit electro, Germany electro” scrawling on the screens.

The group played two encores, the first of which, “The Robots,” saw them replaced with mannequin-like robot likenesses of themselves. The final encore was Side A of 1986’s “Electric Café” — “Boing Boom Tschak,” “Techno Pop” and “Musique Non-Stop” — which closed with the band members walking off stage, individually, and taking a bow for the audience.

The crowd responded with a standing ovation, and the evening shifted to an afterparty at the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design where Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson all performed. Clearly, the Kraftwerk-Detroit love affair continues.