People around me are losing their minds. They’re seeing their future and reliving their past. They’re falling in love, and they’re learning to hate. They’re experiencing the full spectrum of human emotions.
I am not one of these people.
Today is day one of Coachella 2004, and I’m standing in a tent watching Kraftwerk. I leave early, feeling overwhelmed. It’s the entire human experience presented by four disturbingly un-human figures behind podiums, and this, for some reason, upsets me. But Kraftwerk’s genius has always been in its antagonism, and I fell for it, hard.
It took several months of mulling over this show to realize that not only did I love what I had seen and heard but that I had also grown because of it. The performance allowed me to appreciate the hurdles some bands thrust upon their listeners, thus changing the way I experience music.
Kraftwerk’s live performances had shown a fresh vivacity that set them apart from their original recordings, one that adds even more layers to this already dynamic force. Thanks to the group’s conversion to a digital world, the members push fewer buttons, twist fewer knobs and move less frequently (like never), and Kraftwerk has blessed its fans by capturing its life-changing live performances on the double-disc Minimum-Maximum.
With the exception of “Numbers,” which comes from a performance in San Francisco, the tracks are pieced together from shows abroad. The task of sequencing this twenty-two-song collection from more than thirty-five years’ worth of music, including a heavy dose from 2004’s surprisingly interesting Tour de France Soundtracks, is accomplished with obvious care. Taken from a performance in Budapest, “Trans Europe Express” and “Metal on Metal” sound exquisite back-to-back (the only way they should be heard), and the four Computer World songs, though they don’t come from the same show, build on each other as well as they did on the original album.
Staple songs such as “The Man-Machine,” “Autobahn,” and “Radioactivity” have been revitalized and sound as crisp as any skilled studio album. All the clangs hit like a bat against aluminum siding, the vocoder-filtered vocals rise royally above the mix, the melodies soar like a dream and the bass occasionally dips to unholy levels only safe for robot ears. The same songs I found overwhelming in the California desert are now crystal clear, illuminating with genius, and nearly the same as I remember hearing them live. No songs, including the typically gargantuan “Autobahn,” which is kept to a comparably scant nine minutes, linger longer than necessary, though the collection could have done without “Vitamin,” a lazy track that feels like Kraftwerk ripping off its disciples.
But despite that minor glitch, nearly everything on Minimum-Maximum sounds astoundingly fresh. Just as Kraftwerk was an innovator for electronic music in the seventies and early eighties, this release makes it feel like no ground has been lost, like Kraftwerk can still battle the electro-giants of today and emerge victorious. It’s amazing that the same band of German lads who first helped electronic music sprout its metallic wings is still topping everyone who has spent decades building on its well-sowed seeds.