Sunday, April 27, 2014

You Will Believe: Helga Davis's Cassandra

For two years in a row in high school, I donned a gold lamé tux (WHY are there no pictures?) and acted as MC for what was blithely called A Musical Evening. In addition to introducing many performers (including myself and the rest of the Walden Jazz Band so we could murder Watermelon Man - sorry, Herbie), I also uttered the words: "And now, ladies and gentlemen, here's Helga Davis." I'm not sure even Cassandra herself would have prophesized that over 30 years later I would have found myself in a crowded theater confronted with Helga perched atop a billowing white dress, 20 feet above the audience. She stood motionless as films were projected on the dress. This was the stunning image that opened Cassandra, a musical theater piece being presented at BRIC House, a new "home for artists and audiences" in the shadow of the Williamsburg Bank Building in Brooklyn.

We were told before going in that the piece would begin immediately and that there would be no opportunity to leave or re-enter during the 75 minute show. This turned out not to be a problem because the rest of Cassandra was nearly as riveting as that opening display. We were given several minutes to contemplate it, as unsettling music grew in intensity and filled the space. One thought that ran through my mind as I watched the film loop play on Helga's dress was that Grace Jones would be so jealous. It was that cool.

Eventually, two musicians took their places in the back of the theater and began to play. In addition to the piano and trumpet (Adam Klipple and Aaron Roche), I also heard a cello but could not locate the source of the sound. Soon Helga started singing an introductory aria in her gorgeous, wide-ranging mezzo-soprano. It was beautiful, abstract, and haunting. At the end of the song, in an expertly coordinated series of movements, she descended from the platform bringing the dress with her and revealing cellist Jeffrey Ziegler, who continued to play as they wheeled the platform away.

In the semi-darkness, we see that the stagehands are all wearing the same mask based on a Greek sculpture, its rictus grin both funny and slightly scary. Perhaps it was a mask of Apollo, who, in the ancient myth of Cassandra, offered her the power of prophecy in exchange for her love. Having obtained the power, Cassandra then turned down the god's advances and he summarily cursed her to a life of never being believed. Davis's Cassandra, a performing artist in contemporary New York City, also has the power of prophecy.

Once the stage is reset, the "stagehands" turn out to be actors and musicians who quickly take their places in some kind of existential protest - one sign reads "I THINK THEREFORE I AM I THINK" - which is a none-too-subtle transition to Cassandra sitting on a stoop, waiting for a cab.The cab arrives and the masked figures gather around her, unseen by the driver. She yells at them to leave her alone and then tells the confused driver "I'm running lines for a show." This was genuinely funny, although I must say that there was a contingent in the audience who were all too eager to guffaw at what was, in the end, a portrait of a very disturbed, traumatized woman.

The scene shifts to a nightclub, where Cassandra is fronting a band called Unconscious Minds, which also included Ben Butler on guitar and Brian Wolfe on drums. "I see some empty seats out there," she says, "but we always lose a few people to the bar for the second half of the show." She then introduces two songs co-written with Shara Worden and they launch into the first, a stomping, stuttering slab of art rock. Hearing Helga's voice in this context was thrilling. The second song is also fantastic but there isa breakdown story to be told. The permeable fourth wall (were we the audience for Cassandra or "Cassandra"?), along with Davis's acting, made the moment of her collapse highly effective and powerful.

Cassandra comes to, strapped to a chair in a mental hospital. Her unhinged laughter creates a barrier between her and the Doctor, played with warmth by Maximilian Balduzzi. He slowly draws her out (perhaps a mite bit too slowly) and we learn her story. Her visions began at five, precipitating a massive beating from her mother in front of the entire Harlem neighborhood where she grew up. The trauma and the visions go on to form a vicious circle throughout her upbringing, leading to a desire to exit on her own terms.

She also describes one of her visions, an allegorical story with Jay-Z and Beyoncé making cameo appearances, the first representing a modern day king, and the second standing in for all that is unattainable: "You're never gonna get it," Cassandra sings. Indeed. The doctor eventually releases her from the chair, tells her he would like to keep her there for a few days and that he will prescribe something mild. "How about something strong," Cassandra replies. "I don't think it's necessary," he tells her. He believes her, you see, and is certain her visions are true for her - but that doesn't mean they effect those whose futures she sees. This is both compassionate and condescending. Cassandra proceeds to describe a vision that completely dismantles him and he flees to write that stronger Rx.

Alone in her hospital room, and with the assistance of her masked friends, Cassandra ascends, once again swathed in an enormous white gown. While she does not quite reach the height of that opening scene, it is high enough. More than high enough, in fact. Blackout. Standing ovation.

While Helga Davis describes Cassandra as a "work in progress," there are really only a few tweaks to be made. It is a tight, gripping work of theater with excellent music, well-integrated video and striking stagecraft. While I certainly couldn't predict her journey to this point from that stage in our high school auditorium, my current vision sees her recording the two songs with the Unconscious Minds and finding herself with a new sideline in the clubs of nearby Williamsburg. It is an incontrovertible fact, however, that there is only one more perfromance of Cassandra, and it is tonight. Go. Believe me, you're going to love it.


Sunday, April 20, 2014

RSD 2014

I still love record stores and don't need the excuse of Record Store Day to visit them. However, RSD is a good opportunity to drop by a store and join the collective in showing some shopping love. I also like to take the pulse of the local shoppers and see how they're interacting with the experience. The last few years I've been going to out of the way stores, so for RSD 2014 I hit up Tune Street in Great Barrington, MA. This is a nice, well-kept store on the main drag that sells home theater and stereo equipment and DVD's in addition to CD's and vinyl. While it doesn't have an excess of personality, I get the idea that the people that run the place actually like music and have given some thought to curating their stock. I was in there a few months ago for some last minute holiday shopping and I was delighted to find an ace Barrington Levy collection as well as In Time by The Mavericks. My sister was thrilled with both.

When I shop for myself, however, I have some specific guidelines. I tend to either focus on independent labels and artists early in their careers (which usually go hand in hand) while also keeping an eye out for rare or out of print items. My budget is limited so I'm not above checking availability on Spotify or eMusic, both of which are pre-paid, or using All Music, Pitchfork, et al, to help prioritize a stack of potential purchases. This time around, for example, I reshelved The Rough Guide To Latin Rare Grooves on 180 gram vinyl and Inédito by Antonio Carlos Jobim because both are on Spotify. I will be listening to both very soon, however, which might not have happened without my visit to Tune Street.

Even though I'm not really into owning something just to own it, I did carefully examine the shelf of RSD exclusives. While I was amused to see a re-pressing of Little Games by The Yardbirds selling for far less than the original I bought back in high school, there's no reason for me to buy it. There was a pair of Wes Montgomery 10 inches that were beautifully packaged but I admit my knowledge of his work is far too shallow to indulge in rarities at this point. A double album of excerpts from the Allman Brothers Band's Play All Night: Live At The Beacon Theater 1992 was intriguing, but with the whole album on Spotify and the fact that they left off Nobody Knows, which was a real highlight of those shows, meant I couldn't justify the purchase. What would it take to get me to buy one of these pricy items? Simple: something I could hear nowhere else. And the Katy Perry picture disc? Please.

This left the rest of the store to explore. The used CD's were very well-priced at $3.76 but nothing struck my fancy. Most used vinyl was $5 a pop so I flicked through it all, hitting pay dirt at the end with an album of TV Themes by The Richard Gleason Orchestra. Yes, even this collection is on Spotify, eMusic and iTunes, but not on "pure golden vinyl," which is "the purest recording material and offers vibrant sound in its truest form." Beat that Katy! Can't wait to drop the needle on Peter Gunn and blast it.

I pored over all the new CD's, including classical, jazz and world, but it was probably 85% major label catalog releases. One thing they didn't seem to have were the big deluxe reissues and box sets. Since I was already feeling magnanimous, it might have been just the time to try to sell me the expanded version of Dylan's Another Self Portrait, or the latest Miles Davis "bootleg," or even the Richard Strauss Complete Operas doorstop, but I guess they only stock those during the holidays, if at all.

As I wandered about, the store began to fill up, which gladdened my heart. While I can't be sure if it was due to RSD or simply a spectacular day in the Berkshires, plenty of people were on the street and coming in to browse. I observed a guy whose gray beard and thinning thatch didn't necessarily mean he was older than me. He flicked through the used CD's and came across one of the best things in there, a copy of Wilco's Kicking Television (with the cardboard sleeve!) for about $8. "Great record," I said helpfully from across the display table, "If you don't have it and you like Wilco, you won't be disappointed." He looked at me blankly and slid the album back into the rack. Maybe this is what that Bowling Alone book was all about - here was someone who had forgotten how to convocate at the music store.

There was also a kid, around 16 and wearing a Tool shirt, flipping through the Tool CD's. "You have the shirt, now get the albums!" I joked. He already had them, of course, but at least he was friendly about it. Like the rest of us Tool fans he was probably looking on the off chance that they had ended their eight-year drought and dropped something new. I observed with amusement when an older couple came in with a younger woman (their daughter? It was hard to tell) looking for some "hip hop 101" to get her. They quickly focused on the Notorious B.I.G. and selected Life After Death - good listening ahead for the three of them.

By this point, my daughter was watching a cooking show on one of the big flat screens and I was getting hungry myself. I started to feel like I was failing Record Store Day. I took a last desperate glance at the new releases and spotted something I hadn't seen before. It was near the floor, it's dark cover making it hard to see: Slow Phaser by Nicole Atkins. After Holly Miranda had endorsed her on Instagram, I had listened and found it excellent. Perfect! A new album on an independent label by an artist whose career started this century. Sold.

There have been more negative stories about Record Store Day this year than in the past. Major labels have really horned in, dishing up stuff like that Katy Perry thing, which has made it harder for independent labels to get time at pressing plants. Also, junk like that dilutes the stock of items that will attract serious music lovers and is likely too expensive to develop the record buying habit among pop fans. If record stores really want to leverage RSD to its full advantage, I'd recommend they turn down the major label stuff and focus on music - not just packaging - that you can't hear anywhere else. Also, handing out coupons for 25% off - or even BOGO - that go into effect three months after RSD (and expire three months after that) would provide a real incentive for shoppers to return sooner than the next RSD.

And finally some advice to shoppers: when a guy in a Bon Iver t-shirt tells you to get the used Wilco album, just do it - whether or not it's Record Store Day. See you next year!
Dig the gold vinyl!
Want to read more about Record Store Day?
A Bronx Cheer For Record Store Day

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Bayeté's World

In 1974, Santana released a sprawling live album, Lotus, recorded in Japan and only available there. Somewhere near the middle of the three album set was a song called Free Angela, credited to Bayeté. The Angela of the title was of course Angela Davis, the civil rights activist who had spent time in jail on murder charges in 1972. Several songs were written about her, including Sweet Black Angel by the Rolling Stones, and Angela by John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Now, by the time Santana put out Lotus, Davis had been out of jail for over a year, but a good groove is a good groove and the tune was tailor-made for the guitar and rhythm pyrotechnics of Carlos and crew.

By the time Lotus became more widely available, it's likely few people knew who Bayeté was or where Free Angela had come from. Turns out Bayeté was a name adopted by the pianist Todd Cochran and Free Angela was on his debut album as a leader, Worlds Around The Sun, which came out in 1972. Cochran only made one other album, but even a busy career as a sideman in the worlds of jazz, fusion, rock - he's on Peter Gabriel's first album - and r&b (not to mention being sampled by De La Soul, etc.) failed to keep him prominent enough to maintain Worlds Around The Sun in the catalog. Now thanks to Omnivore Recordings, we have the first CD reissue and can hear the original Free Angela in context.

1972 was the same year Bobby Hutcherson's Head On came out. An expansive classic with touches of fusion and Latin jazz, much of the album was written and arranged by Cochran, then a 19-year old phenom. Hutcherson returned the favor and his sparkling vibes are all over Bayeté's record but never overshadowing Cochran himself. It Ain't, the first track on Worlds Around The Sun, showcases his arranging, with a sweet, swinging woodwind intro reminiscent of Eric Dolphy or Charles Mingus. It also serves to introduce some of the players, moving through muscular solos from Cochran, bassist James Leary and drummer Thabo Vincar. Somewhat strangely for a jazz cut, the song fades out as the theme is being reintroduced, lending a sense of impatience: let's get on with it.

And so they do, with the radically different sound of a funky backbeat, wah-wah driven clavinet and a few choruses of "Free Angela!" For anyone interested in the early days of fusion, it's an intoxicating sound and over all too soon. About two thirds of the way through, the funk recedes and is replaced by a lyrical clavinet riff, quickly superseded by a wistful arrangement led by flutes and wordless vocals. It's a bit of a patchwork affair, but also quietly impressive when you consider the protean young mind behind it all. Njeir follows, coming in softly on vibes, piano and wind instruments. There's beautiful playing by Hadley Caliman (another figure worthy of investigation) on flute, Cochran and Hutcherson. It's questing music, melancholy but also lighter than air.

I'm On It brings the funk back, with crisp drumming, more wah wah and some group vocals. Caliman shines again with a knotty free jazz blast from his tenor sax, but at under 3:00, it's also over all too soon. One could begin to wonder if the classically-trained Cochran was slightly ambivalent about the inherently repetitive nature of groove-based music. It's easy to contrast it with Herbie Hancock's astonishing Sextant from around the same time, where he had no problem filling a whole side of the record with a hard jam called Hornets.

Next up is the true centerpiece of the album, a 12 minute piece called Bayeté, which originally led off side two of Worlds Around The Sun. Over a bed of percussion, Cochran solos on Fender Rhodes at length, exploring the sustained textures of the instrument. Terrific solos from Oscar Brashear (trumpet), Dave Johnson (soprano sax) stretch out the driving track, which is reminiscent of Filles De Kilimanjaro, when Miles Davis was on the cusp of going fully electric. It has much of the same excitement and is worth the price of admission.

Eurus slows things down with some questing winds and exploratory drums. The Rhodes shimmers through it all, creating a sumptuous jazz tone painting. Phoebe is tightly arranged and briskly swinging, Brashear blowing hard, while Leary and Johnson are also given their heads. Cochran is once again on Rhodes, employing a nicely distorted sound and comping with big chords before taking a fleet solo of his own. Good stuff.

The last track is Shine The Knock, another lengthy piece with extended soloing from Cochran and busy rhythm work. His arranging skills keep things interesting with alternating sections and well-deployed contributions from the ensemble. Leary's electric bass is churning, goading everyone on. Brashear dazzles with 16th note runs and loud fanfares, invoking Freddie Hubbard's hard bop. The tempo picks up nearing the 12 minute mark and the urgency feels genuine. Cochrane then brings back the opening theme and moves into a much more satisfying fade than the one on It Ain't.

Though it topped Miles Davis on the Downbeat poll in 1972, Worlds Around The Sun is not an epochal album; it often has the feel of a portfolio: let me show you what I can do. But it is an excellent, engaging listen, one that deserved far better than to become buried treasure for crate diggers. It seemed to herald a major talent and Cochran quickly followed it up later in 1972 with the much more funked-out Seeking Other Beauty, also worthy of reissue. However, that was it for Cochran as a leader and, as successful as he was in the future, it would be hard to be convinced that he lived up to the potential shown on Worlds Around The Sun - although he still has his chopsMuch kudos to Omnivore for bringing the best of Bayeté back into the fold.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Valerie Coleman's Utopia

The history of North American music, at least since the Civil War is rife with tales of talented people of Valerie Coleman's "skin tone" (her words) being turned away from the academy and finding refuge in the worlds of jazz, blues and pop. Coleman, who calls herself "an imagery kind of gal" founded Imani Winds in 1997 to put forth a utopian vision where those worlds are one with western classical music.

Such a thing could be a disaster, but the virtuosity of Coleman and her compatriots in the quintet along with that undefinable concept of taste have made Imani a bright spot on the musical landscape. Their artistic conviction and excellence has brought notice from the Grammys - they were nominated in 2005 - and the legendary Wayne Shorter, who made a collaboration with Imani the centerpiece of his last album, Without A Net.

Last Tuesday, Victoria Bond's Cutting Edge Concerts series opened with a "composer portrait" of Valerie Coleman at the Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theater featuring Imani and a host of other performers. The eight works included four world premieres and one New York premiere, all pieces composed since 2011. We first heard Danza de la Mariposa, a solo flute work played by Nathalie Joachim, ultra-stylish in a salmon dress and high heels. It's a brave player who takes on a piece written for the composer's own instrument but Joachim and her golden flute faced down the many challenges of the piece with aplomb. The butterfly's dance led Coleman to alternate breathy tones with fuller ones, and dense passages with more open textures to make for a distinctive portrait of the beautiful insect.

Next up was another portrait in sound - Lenox Avenue, completed earlier this year for an unusual quartet of clarinet, violin, cello, and piano. Comprised of four movements with descriptive titles, this was another example of Coleman translating images into sound. The piece was full of the life of the street, not only the music famously played there (Thelonious Monk is referenced in the second movement), but also its denizens, the good and the bad. Listening to Lenox Avenue, it became clear that like many great composers - Shostakovich comes to mind - Coleman has an uncanny understanding of the capabilities of different instruments, alone and in ensemble. The communication between sounds was absorbing and the sounds themselves were beautiful. The performers, all members of the Da Capo Chamber Players, seemed to be enjoying it at least as much as the audience.
Rubispheres followed, with Coleman on flute joined by her Imani colleagues Mariam Adam (clarinet) and Monica Ellis (bassoon). Consistently lively, the short piece was a showcase for Ellis's extraordinary technique. She may be one of the finest bassoon players around, with a supple sound at odds with that instrument's ungainly reputation. The trio interacted in a variety of ways, at times jamming like a funk band, at others getting knotted up in thickets of notes as dense as anything coming from Vienna these days.

Before intermission, we heard Afro-Cuban Concerto for Wind Quintet, a work from 2001 in which Coleman transferred all the rhythms associated with that music - the clave, the rhumba, etc. - to the instruments of her group. Originally composed for orchestra, this stripped down version worked just fine. Jeff Scott (horn) and Toyin Spellman-Diaz (oboe) filled out the group to its full cohort and played flawlessly. Hearing "tribal" beats played on melodic instruments changes their relationship to our bodies, but I can't say I was sitting very still during the performance.

When the house lights went down again, we heard The Dawes Roll, another world premiere and a collaboration with Rochelle Small-Clifford, a soprano and songwriter. Accompanied by Dmitri Dover on piano, Small-Clifford not so much sang the songs as inhabited them, using gestures and facial expressions as effectively as a Kabuki master to bring us into her emotional world. The Dawes Roll was a census used to keep track of African-Americans either owned by Native Americans (think on that for a moment) or sharing their blood, so there were plenty of depths to plumb. While it is hard to imagine someone else singing these remarkable songs with the same commitment, they should be widely performed.

The Da Capo Chamber Players took the stage for the last premiere of the night, Freedman of the Five Civilized Tribes, a natural segue from the song cycle, in subject matter at least. Once again, Coleman's sure hand with orchestration utilized each of the players wonderfully for a rich piece that felt more expansive than its length. Like the other new works played, I'm hoping it's recorded soon so I can get to know it better.

Portraits Of Langston (2008) for flute, clarinet, piano and narrator was the penultimate work, a sort of call and response between poems and music. Tim Cain read the poems and, although he stumbled once, I felt like I understood Langston Hughes's use of repetition in a way that was never clear before. In short, Cain was a fantastic reader, the poems were well-chosen, and the music drew on the sounds of the Harlem Renaissance as an expert collage-maker might use printed materials of an earlier age.

Finally, the Imani Winds gathered once more to play Tzigane, full of energetic melodies and interplay. There was almost constant forward motion from beginning to end in this delightful work, which managed to avoid cliché while still being unmistakably inspired by Eastern European gypsy music. When it ended, there was a long, well-deserved ovation for Coleman and her players.
It had been a long concert and my head was still trying to make sense of all we had heard as we exited onto the rain-slicked streets of the upper west side. The blinking Don't Walk sign formed a pulse under the ostinato of traffic and when a cab stopped on a dime to pick us up I almost applauded. I was still in Coleman's utopia, where the world becomes music and music becomes the world. I hope to visit again soon.

There are still two more events in the Cutting Edge Concerts series, on April 21st and 28th. Go to their site for more information.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Das Kraftwerk Quartett

Around 1956, Buddy Holly established the quartet as the basic form of the rock band. In 1962, The Beatles made it de rigeur. On their 1975 tour, after a few years of line-up changes, Kraftwerk presented the rock quartet as an almost purely graphic concept. Granted, they may have actually needed eight hands on deck to play their music back then, but sequencers, computers and other technological advances have made that progressively less necessary. And when you consider the fact that Kraftwerk is now touring with precisely synced 3-D video, it almost makes more sense for them to have one person controlling everything. But they remain wedded to the four-man-band, if only for its visual power - and they are right to do so. The sight of the four podia (Keyboards? Decks? Desks?) precisely aligned on stage has become as iconic as the four heads on the cover of With The Beatles.

Although a longtime fan of Kraftwerk I didn't really get the point of seeing them until I heard Minimum-Maximum, their live album from 2005. The cheers of the crowd activated an energy in the music and the collective joy was apparent even without any visuals. Like all but a lucky few, I was closed out of their run of shows at MOMA a couple of years ago so when they announced a date (later expanded to two) at United Palace Theater I made it my business to get tickets. I was a bit surprised that they chose the elaborate former movie palace on 175th and Broadway as the venue, but the fact is that both concerts I've been to there (Bob Dylan, 2007, and Fleet Foxes, 2011) were highly memorable and I expected no less from Kraftwerk.

The vibe in the buzzing crowd led me to believe that many of the attendees had never been this far uptown before. Even though United Palace is in my backyard as an Inwood dweller, the pioneering spirit lent a frisson that was contagious. I was psyched and so was everyone there. Even though only one original member remains (Ralf Hutter) and Kraftwerk hasn't released anything new since 2003, this didn't feel like an excursion into nostalgia any more than going to Shakespeare play or a seeing a Picasso exhibit. Kraftwerk is simply one of the most influential forces in pop since Edison waxed the first cylinder and this was an opportunity to commune with their timeless music in circumstances fully within their control.

Finally, the lights went down and the red curtain parted to reveal the screen. The four members took their places and the introduction to The Robots began to a unanimous roar from the audience. The familiar figures of the band in red shirts and black ties from the cover of The Man-Machine (1978) went through their paces in 3-D, converted into robotic digital mannequins. Whenever an arm swept close to the crowd, there were more cheers. Clearly, nobody in the place was jaded by the effect. It didn't hurt that Kraftwerk's sound team had turned the antique theater into a gleaming sonic temple, with deep rich bass and well-differentiated textures. There were some rude folks who continued to arrive as the band moved seamlessly into Metropolis from the same album. I suppose the trip on the A train was longer than they anticipated.

Ralf Hutter's voice sounded a bit less substantial than in the past but still retained his tart, slightly bemused tone. He sang mostly in English, an unnecessary concession at this late date, but the lyrics are schematic enough that it hardly mattered. A little suite of songs from Computer World (1981), their last classic album, followed and it was hard not to get up and dance to the booming beat of Numbers, still as improbably, wonderfully funky as it was 33 years ago. Then they swung back and played the rest of The Man-Machine, with the bass of the title track especially revelatory - this was how it was supposed to sound - and the animation for Spacelab a whimsical delight. This brilliant album is inexplicably not included in Kraftwerk's Spotify discography - just buy it if you don't have it!

The visuals for The Model and Neon Lights cleverly harkened back to the glory days of UFA and German cinema, and the latter track segued perfectly in Autobahn, which was their American breakthrough in 1974 - even my mom used to sing it. We all went on a little drive on the titular highway, speeding past vintage Beetles and Mercedes-Benzes, before signaling properly and exiting. The sense of forward motion continued through Tour de France (1983) and selections from the album (2003) of the same name. We zoomed straight into the abyss of Radio-Activity (1975) and the mood of optimism palled, especially when the names of nuclear disaster sites, including Fukushima, flashed on the screen. Like a well-sequenced mix tape, however, they brought us all to safety on the Trans-Europe Express. While I would have liked to hear the Showroom Dummies or The Hall Of Mirrors, both slightly bitter tracks from the same album (1977), their medley was great, succesfully replicating the hypnotic flow of the record.

Nearly every band with a long career stumbles, and Techno-Pop (originally called Electric Cafe) from 1986, was Kraftwerk's fall from grace. With a labored genesis of nearly five years, and an equally labored sound - an ironically troubled adjustment to digital instruments for these sonic innovators - the album led to a 17 year hiatus. In concert, they played the first side in a substantially re-tooled version and it was much improved and very engaging, despite the fact that the songs still sound somewhat recycled. During Musique Non Stop, each member of Kraftwerk got a little solo spot before stepping away to stand in a spotlight and accept applause. Without going to multiple concerts it's impossible to say how much of what they played was improvised or pre-programmed, but it all sounded fabulous and the gestures of the other members showing appreciation for their comrades were well-choreographed and amusing.

Finally, Ralf Hutter was left alone to play his solo, injecting some drama into the song with dense washes of sound. Just as he seemed to be building to a crescendo, he stepped away to the loudest cheers of all, well befitting a living legend. The houselights stayed down and my mind-raced, trying to figure out what notable song they skipped. Pocket Calculator from Computer World would have made a great encore, but instead they played Aéro Dynamik, from Tour De France, and Planet Of Visions, the reworked version of their Expo 2000 theme song, which made its debut on Minimum-Maximum. The latter song is pretty terrific and sent everyone off into the night (or towards the besieged merch table) on waves of electro-euphoria.

While Kraftwerk's days of writing indelible, often prescient songs are likely behind them, the quality of every aspect of the concert showed them to be perfect stewards of their astounding legacy, which is in the DNA of all electronic music since their peak years. I've run into too many music fans who have no idea who they are; hopefully some of the noise generated by this tour will cause more people to investigate their amazing music. Even without songs from the three albums that preceded Autobahn, my Spotify playlist will clue you in nicely if necessary.