While Kraftwerk fans were dancing wildly to “More Fun to Compute” on the crowded floor last night, another set of fans were miles from the opening night of the revered group’s retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. They were instead buried deep in the heart of Brooklyn, and seemingly very happy about it.
When The Onion‘s features editor, Joe Garden, was unable to get tickets to see Kraftwerk’s very sold-out eight-night stand at the MoMA, he didn’t wallow in a broken heart. Instead, he took to Facebook to air his grievances. From a half-hearted comment sprung an idea that turned into a full-fledged show that reached its conclusion last night when Krautwerk 1-8 Condensed: Kraftwerk Covered took to the stage at Littlefield in Brooklyn. The show was no consolation prize, though. It paid homage to the German synthpop godfathers with a line-up that many of the Kraftwerk fans who were able to get the elusive MoMA tickets would have been just as eager to see, including Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, Julia Cafritz, Pete Nolan of Magik Markers, Dan Friel of Parts and Labor, Oneida’s Barry London, and comics Kurt Braunohler and Dave Hill. Not surprisingly, with that line-up, much like it’s originator, Krautwerk sold out too.
While Kraftwerk shows feature the band standing like robotic butlers behind podiums, Krautwerk had something else in mind entirely. The show kicked off with Garden wearing a lab coat, standing in front of a screen filled with intentionally obtuse imagery, reminding the crowd that the Kraftwerk playing at MoMA was only one-fourth of the original band. The gathered crowd of predominantly white, edging towards middle-age fans hooted wildly at that, as well as at Garden’s ardent declaration that, “We are the new robots!” What followed were a full set of Kraftwerk’s greatest hits played by some of the band’s biggest fans, albeit the ones who couldn’t pull enough strings to get tickets the official retrospective. The house backing band – Pteradactyl’s Matt Marlin on drums, Parts and Labor’s Dan Friel and Jonas Reinhardt’s Jesse Reiner on synths – blurted out Kraftwerk tunes at a frantic pace, keeping up with the cavalcade of singers offering pretty straight-forward pop covers of the songs.
The performers had a blast and the fans, while slightly wistful about not being able to see the real band, truly wanted to have fun. Perhaps the slight sadness of the gathered crowd was why it was a night when the comedians outshone the musicians. Nothing fights ennui like a belly laugh, right? When comedian Dave Hill took the stage clad in a velvet jacket and ascot, no one was quite sure what to expect. The crowd went wild as he shredded out a rollicking and strangely personal rendition of this self-proclaimed theme song “Sex Object.”
Comedian Kurt Braunohler also whipped the crowd into a froth when during his cover of “Neon Lights” he stripped from a tux to a DIY version of Kraftwerk’s famed neon-lit unitards. It was less Tron and more frat house Halloween costume, but the effect was brilliant and the audience loved every minute of the burlesque. As the vocals ended, he threw glow-in-the-dark necklaces into the audience and then, himself. Other highlights included Corn Mo’s surprising accordion-and-whistle cover of “The Robots” and Publicist’s disembodied and dancey computer-and-lights version of “More Fun to Compute.” It was an apt tribute to Kraftwerk, a band whose famously and strangely mesmerizing stage shows made it easy for fans to listen to a 23-minute long song about a German street.
The night’s headliner was billed as Free Kitten[esque], which was the first performance in years by Kim Gordon and Julie Cafritz’s Free Kitten, minus Yoshimi P-We but with the addition of Magick Markers’ Pete Nolan on drums. They delivered a thumping, synth-free version of “Heavy Metal Kids,” a radio session-only tune, that will not be playing at MoMA this week. Playing a song that only the most ardent fans would recognize was a fitting end to a show crafted by fans for fans.