Live: Daft Punk Smash Puny Humans

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I wonder how they felt about Short Circuit.

Daft Punk + the Rapture + Kavinsky + Sebastian
Keyspan Park
August 9, 2007

After tonight's Daft Punk show let out, I got into a friendly little debate with Ryan Dombal. See, when Daft Punk first left their enormous pyramid control-panel stage-cockpit, the crowd was going fucknuts, and the group was politely applauding the crowd back. And then they did something with their hands. I thought they were throwing the Roc-A-Fella diamond, a sly little acknowledgment of Kanye West and "Stronger," the closest this group would ever come to making a straight-up joke. But Ryan thought they were making a pyramid with their hands, which would also make sense, given that their stage setup is a pyramid and all. It doesn't particularly matter either way, of course, and whatever the answer is, it doesn't really tell us anything new about the monster spectacle that had just steamrolled us. But it still seemed worth debating, since that cryptic gesture was the only actual nonmusical communique that we'd gotten from the stage all night. The guys/robots in Daft Punk really didn't do anything tonight beyond fiddling with buttons that we couldn't see. Every once in a while, they'd tentatively step through the fourth wall: a clap here, a fist-pump there (and let me tell you: when that fist pumped, people lost their shit). In the Daft Punk road-movie Electroma, which I haven't seen, the duo hired two actors to play their robot alter-egos, and sometimes those same actors pose in photo-shoots when the actual Daft Punk people are too busy. But so we have no way of knowing whether that was actually Daft Punk onstage tonight. They could've been sitting in giant recliners under the stage, hi-fiving each other and shoveling Doritos into their mouths. They could be dead. We just don't know.

The duo's mystique is so dense and all-consuming that tonight's show felt somehow like a monument to it. Certainly the mystique, as much as the actual music, is what made the show such a dazzling and ultimately moving piece of work. Just as the curtain was dropping and the two were taking the stage, the stadium speakers played the alien-communication notes from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, a wink and a signal that we should treat the music we'd hear tonight as a broadcast from another world. (The other music we heard right before the show really started: Bonnie Tyler's "Holding Out for a Hero." Seriously.) As a sheer technical achievement, the show was pretty stunning: the duo stood inside a pyramid made out of flashing LCD screens while a huge scaffolding surrounding the triangle flashed bright intricate patterns of light. Still, all this technology was pressed into service of a total retro-futurist lazer-Floyd aesthetic; I kept thinking of Battleground, the old arcade game where you'd shoot extremely slow-moving missiles at crudely rendered green polygonal tanks. And the music worked in a pretty similar way: all electronic, lots of chest-thumping bass, no actual live vocals, but everything in service of these massive old-school stadium-thumping riffs, riffs that might've once made Judas Priest proud. The live Daft Punk experience is too based around visual spectacle and musical enormity to work in, say, a club setting. This wasn't a dance show, though people were sure as fuck dancing. It was a stadium-rock show, one that had absorbed a knowingly naive sensibility and a great DJ set's sense of continuous flow without sacrificing any of its brain-atomizing force. The duo didn't play their songs straight-out; they rejiggered and spliced recognizable pieces of those songs into one another: playing the vocal riff from one over the synth-riff from another, bringing back some parts several times over the course of the set. But when those recognizable bits hit, they hit hard. The duo has an innate grasp of dynamics; they know exactly when to smear a rampaging riff into a faded blur and when to snap it back into focus. An entire stadium (minor-league, but still) hung on their every vwerp.

And this was definitely a big event, Daft Punk's first New York show in a decade. I know people who flew in from across the country just for tonight, who are leaving town again tomorrow morning. People were amped for this shit: showing up in homemade t-shirts or robot costumes, pregaming at the stadium bar, bouncing up and down with excitement on the walk from the subway to the stadium. When the show actually started, people were absolutely losing their shit at every crescendo, buildup, fadeout, peak, and valley. For a group with no actual live vocals, Daft Punk sure inspires a whole lot of singalongs: with the sampled human vocals on "One More Time," with the looped robot vocals on "Technologic" and "Harder Better Faster Stronger," even with the synth-riff on "Da Funk." (The entire stadium, after the drums hit but before the riff kicked in for real: "Doo! Doo-doo da doo! Doo-doo da doo!" Not making this up.) When "The Brainwasher" hit one especially nasty moment, I saw a guy being wheeled out on a stretcher; the song must've been too much for him.

The Rapture opened, but at least in the bleachers, people barely seemed to notice; they sounded as good as always, but they looked frail and tiny in Daft Punk's massive latticework. Kavinsky and Sebastian, two Ed Banger DJs, were also on the bill, but they must've been playing records from offstage between bands; I didn't see either DJ step onstage all evening. And that was fine: we were all there so that two robots could melt our faces off, and that's exactly what they did.

Voice review: Michaelangelo Matos on Daft Punk's Human After All
Voice review: James Hannaham on Daft Punk's Discovery

This is Status Ain't Hood entry number five hundred. Crazy.

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