Hard to believe that everybody used to get frigid vibes from Kraftwerk's '70s proto-techno. In today's Auto-Tuned world, they exude a Beach Boys level of warmth, a link they beefed up at Disney Hall with a chorus of programmed vocal harmonies during their biggest hit, "Autobahn." Fahren-fahren-fahren = fun-fun-fun; Alpine yodels = barbershop quartets; '68 Volkswagen = '34 woodie. Kraftwerk always had concepts and subtlety to go with their joky pseudo-Nazi outfits; this night they came off less like Hitler Youth and more like your favorite corporate uncle, or maybe Mike Love in a tie. We beachfolk ate 'em up like wienerschnitzel.
Calling their presentation "quaint," my cultural advisor commented on the way Kraftwerk tapped Aryan/American nostalgia. Though founder Ralf Hűtter and his three pals may rank as pioneers in synth technology and nerdtastic image (Devo and Talking Heads couldn't have sprouted without 'em), they swayed with minimal ease at small remotely triggered keyboards and projected their 3-D videos onto what looked like a giant bedsheet. The animations themselves had the coloring-book simplicity of early computer games. Older attendees felt pleasantly coddled; the low-tech aesthetic made younger ones chuckle.
I thought Kraftwerk would at least update their sound with some colon-massaging bass, but the volume and soundscape stayed moderate, almost toylike, as crude animated mannequins ("Computer World") poked expanding arms into our 3-D-bespectacled eyeballs and nonthreatening cartoon trains ("Trans Europe Express") rattled over us. The cheery mechanized loops and catchy keyboard riffs plinked along with gentle precision.
Kraftwerk offered a chance to think about nuclear-plant disasters ("Radioactivity"), our increasing bloodlessness ("Computer Love") and the sexualized ennui of bicycle racing ("Tour de France"), but the Barcalounger atmosphere kept the implications from bunching our pajamas. That disconnect launched another mental loop, all part of the elegant irony in which Kraftwerk trades.
Sweet, really. And fun-fun-fun.