Tomorrow Never Knows

With its recent U.S. tour, Kraftwerk stakes its claim as the most important group since The Beatles

In the one display of any sort of political stance, Kraftwerk performed the 1991 remix version of 1976's "Radioactivity." Speaking out (electronically) against nuclear power plants such as Chernobyl, Sellafield and Harrisburg, Kraftwerk warned of a potential Hiroshima and a "terminated population." The flashing radioactive symbols were an indication that there were actually four human beings onstage.

But by the time the encore rolled around, Kraftwerk returned and loosened up a bit. Standing in front of their stations, unobstructed, the scientists performed "Pocket Calculator" with a sense of humor and four pocket keyboards. Although a far cry from donning silly flowerpot hats, the foursome was simply comical and hammed it up like an old radio. The almost childish verse "By pressing down a special key, it plays a little melody" was an antidote to the usual discipline of the Kraftwerk machine.

The next encore revealed the lonesome Kling Klang once again, but everyone was anticipating the fabricated four's arrival onstage. Halfway through "The Robots," Kraftwerk's mechanical self-portraits were lowered to perform upper torso dancing in the intermittence of strobe lighting. Afterward, the legless impostors were turned over to their groupies: Dr. Evil's Fembots. Kraftwerk returned once more and offered yet another untitled new track--this one was also pure techno and you could feel the "current" running right through it. With glowing neon-green grid-pattern suits, the band looked like something out of the movie Tron.

On the screens, four computer-designed busts from the cover of the 1986 album Electric Cafe came to life. "Boing Boom Tschak" as the faces would repeat, along with random "pings" and "ticks," was the first half of the finale, "Musique Non Stop." The house lights (in the Palladium's case, chandeliers) were on and people were filing out, but the robotic refrain "music, non stop" would repeat for at least another 10 minutes--Kraftwerk is very much aware of its endless influence.

But history also repeats. Lennon was quoted as saying that The Beatles were more important than Jesus, and the questionable statement caused a backlash. For more than 30 years, the Fab Four has been immortalized with an unmatched reverence, and so today, it is almost as controversial to say that Kraftwerk is more important than The Beatles. Controversial, yes, but for the countless DJs, producers and listeners whose tastes were shaped by electronic music, this assertion is unquestionable.

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