This has shaped up to be another "I Love the '90s" week, with back-to-back posts about Smashing Pumpkins and, now, Daft Punk. I'll always be an '80s girl at heart, but the '90s weren't too shabby.
Daft Punk, Greek Theatre, July 27, 2007: As a venue snob, I'm contractually obliged to bust out the "I first saw Daft Punk" story, so here goes--the exact date was March 29, 1997 (thanks to The List for the info), when I lived by the rule that I had to see all groups that came from England and charged less than $10 for a concert ticket. Daft Punk, though French, qualified, by virtue of the fact that the U.K. music magazines were practically offering to have their babies, based on the strength of their debut album Homework, which had come out earlier that year.
The locale was the tiny Mission Rock Resort, a low-key restaurant/club that made you feel like you were at someone's house party with DJs spinning on the back patio. I didn't realize it until much later, but I saw a fairly unique show that night. That is, neither Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo nor Thomas Bangalter donned their usual media-obfuscating masks, helmets, hoods, or any other manner of disguise. Instead, we got two fairly young, unassuming fellows devoting themselves to working the turntables, mixers, sequencers, and paraphernalia that comprise their craft. Though other factors were swirling through my bloodstream, I loved the show, and I saw them once more when they returned to the Fillmore several months down the line. A decade on, I still adore Homework too.
In the intervening years, my interest in dance music and culture has dipped considerably. Truth be told, I didn't even think I was going to this show; though Annie suggested we check it out (a friend piqued her interest by hyping up their Coachella appearance), she neglected to get tickets before the gig sold out. Fortunately, we were able to take her friend's extras.
We continued to come up lucky, finding a great parking space on a side street, missing the Rapture's opening slot, and settling in at a decent spot partway up the stone benches. The human parade was a little drab, especially compared to the club scene, much less the former rave scene, but there were bright spots--almost literally! From our spot, we spied a group of a dozen or so people in the pit, all dressed in white and sporting some sort of incandescent lights. Taken together, they were like a small, bright galaxy among the masses. You couldn't miss them, and they made for entertaining viewing.
Elsewhere, we noticed wigs and glowsticks, as well as plenty of dancing while Sebastian and Kavinksky spun their tunes, including their Rage Against the Machine remix that had the crowd banging their heads and pumping their fists in unison--just like you'd see at a rock show. In fact, I was glad to see that the dance-rock divide isn't as dramatic as it used to be, but then again, this show by definition spurned pigeonholing.
The human spectacle soon gave way to an architectural one, as the lights went down, the curtains swung back, and the glowing pyramid--the world's coolest DJ booth ever--caught our eye. Equal parts I.M. Pei, Pink Floyd, and Tutankhamun, the pyramid cradled Daft Punk (presumably), who, with shiny helmets affixed, climbed inside. Then the music began.
This is actually a good case when it's ridiculous to be a venue snob. Let's face it--unless you're one yourself, DJs are not known for providing incredible visual appeal. DJ acts often supplement their shows with all forms of ocular stimuli, but Daft Punk takes this gameplan to the extreme. Sure, I once saw their faces, and this setup raises the question of whether Guy and Thomas are really on the decks and whether the experience is a "live" show as most people know it. I don't really care, to tell you the truth--part of the gig's appeal is being swept up in the atmosphere and the groove. And the pyramid is really that cool. Even better, the vibe among the fans was just as welcoming, and I can say this with some conviction, given my clean bill of health for this outing.
Apparently, Daft Punk's performance was a carbon copy of their Coachella set, which is not unusual for a lot of big-name DJs, but it was new to me--and mind-blowing to witness. The pyramid, the light show, the digital readouts, the projected images--they all commanded attention, while the music moved our bodies, almost without our realizing it. I perked up every time they inserted so much as a hint of their Homework-era numbers into the set, but to my surprise, the biggest cheers of the night came for the newer stuff, most notably "One More Time," which was so popular that you could hear the crowd belting out its ridiculous (and repeatable) refrains, even before the beat dropped.
When they came back for the encore and finally pumped out "Da Funk," I was euphoric. It's been a long time since I've been dancing, and though I didn't realize it, my body needed the mental workout. Daft Punk facilitated that release with their deep grooves, hypnotic rhythms, and shamelessly populist hooks.
A lot has been said about the striking visual element of Daft Punk's show, and I can understand why they'd want to bring in all that hardware. After all, our attention spans aren't getting any longer. Even for a teetotaler like me, it was great fun to watch, and I was a little envious of how the chemically enhanced members of the audience might've viewed the gig. I just hope that the eye candy doesn't distract from the music, which was a force of its own. The joy and energy that infused me after the gig was no different from what I feel after any great show, regardless of genre.
I can sort of verbalize the alluring elements of a pop song, but I lose my bearings when it comes to instrumentals, regardless of the genre. I can't for the life of me tell you what in Daft Punk's music moves me, but in the end, all I can say is that at their best, Daft Punk's tunes require no drugs of any sort to carry you aloft; just let your booty lead the way.