Thunderous and theatrical, presented with a dizzying display of lights and images, Daft Punk’s appearance at the Los Angeles Sports Arena had as much in common with a Las Vegas spectacular or theme park attraction as it did a concert.
Viewers have no idea if the two performers sitting atop a massive pyramid wearing helmets and costumes that make them look like modern day Klaatus are actually Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Emmanuel de Homem-Christo — the French masterminds behind Daft Punk — or actors hired to embody a role like cast members at Disneyland. And even if it is really them, there’s no way of knowing if they’re creating the music live or miming to files on a computer hard drive; the stage and camerawork is designed so no one can see below mid-chest level, and never see their (gloved) hands touching an instrument or keyboard.
Not that it matters: the son et lumiere is what the throngs of fans (who filled the rusting, Blade Runner-like pile that is the Sports Arena) were there for, and on that front Daft Punk did not disappoint.
With the robot performers (who take the stage to the theme from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”) standing high above the crowd in a pyramid, the top floating above them, flanked by interlocking triangles and video screens, another LED screen behind them, the show is an alien Masonic rally imagined by George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Walt Disney. And like a thrill ride, the crowd screams whenever there’s a change in the lighting; the only difference between an amusement park and this show is that it’s the crowd and not the ride that’s doing all the moving.
The music’s mechanized voices declaim slogans extolling hedonism and leisure: “television rules the nation,” “you know you need it/it’s good for you,” and climaxing with “One More Time’s” call to “celebrate and be so free” (which was repeated in the encore, when it was paired with “Together’s” call for humans and robots to band together). With no new album to promote (they do have a silent art film, “Electroma,” which premiered at Cannes in 2006 ) the music pretty much stuck to Daft Punk’s best known songs. But the sound was constantly shifting, adding snippets of other songs, unexpected samples, and new rhythmic elements to the mix. In an irony Bangalter and de Homem-Christo would probably find sweet, the robotic Daft Punk took more liberties with the recorded versions of the songs than Sonic Youth did with “Daydream Nation” at the Greek the night before.
Tech credits are first rate — no matter how loud (and the entire show was played at punishing volume) or booming the music became, the sound system was more than up to the task while the light show was consistently inventive.
New York trio Ratatat opened up and also impressed. Mixing orchestral sounds, sounding like Per and crunchy guitars right out of an Iron Maiden album with computer generated beats, they create an alluring racket that’s simultaneously heavy and delicate.
Daft Punk lands at Brooklyn’s Keyspan Park on Aug. 9.