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Daft Punk’s Pyramid Scheme

CONEY ISLAND: The French duo level Coney Island with reckless, robotic abandon, and the Rapture provide a sleek, synthy intro. With video!

This is the show I’d have the toughest time explaining to my parents, and for several reasons. First, I’m in Coney Island and it’s after dark. Even if they’ve never seen Requiem for a Dream, it’s still a shady place to be. Second — and this is the really disturbing part, at least to suburbanite professionals who think the Beatles got too racy when they grew beards — I am standing with thousands of saucer-eyed New Yorkers staring slack-jawed at two fellows in robot outfits who are pummeling us with seismic amounts of bass, and doing God-knows-what within the walls of a 40-foot-tall, LED-encrusted pyramid. Grown men are “singing” along to sampled squeaks and squawks, a tinny, digitized voice is shouting “Fuck it” on repeat, and I’m having the time of my life.

A Daft Punk show is campy, for sure — I mean, who can say for certain that the two gents dressed like the Rocketeer are actually doing anything up there, or if they’re even the actual members of Daft Punk at all. For all we know, Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter are somewhere offstage, or, better yet, inside the pyramid, controlling the massive sound system in air-conditioned comfort. Or, even better, they’re in the south of France, sipping Pernod, and lighting Gitanes with 100 Euro bills while having a laugh at the silly Americans forking over $50 a piece to see two actors in robot helmets.

Of course, that’s almost certainly not true — and the duo was positively identified out of costume after last weekend’s Lollapalooza festival in Chicago — but embracing Daft Punk does require a certain suspension of disbelief. It’s a large reason why their current, brief (and relatively infrequent) tour of the U.S. is such a hot ticket. Fans at Coney Island got an extra bonus via an opening set from the Rapture, a band that undoubtedly has Daft Punk and other dance music pioneers to thank for their own success. Particularly on synth-dependent numbers like “Sister Savior” and set-closing “Olio” from their debut, Echoes, the Rapture fit right into the evening’s digital landscape, and would have scared my folks way less than what followed.

From the instant the curtain dropped to reveal their enormous, aforementioned pyramid, Daft Punk began playing up the robot theme to the hilt — Bangalter even told me in a 2001 interview that he and Homem-Christo were really transformed into robots after being enveloped by the 9/9/99 computer virus. The duo cheekily opened their set with “Robot Rock” and ended it with “Human After All,” a notion that came through in the robots’ warm au revoir to the crowd before descending from their pyramid. And the duo further personalized their set by weaving tastes of their biggest hits, like their 1997 breakthrough “Around the World,” into newer cuts from 2005’s Human After All, before unveiling them in full splendor later on (see the video above for a glimpse).

Certainly, Kanye West’s Daft Punk-sampling single, “Stronger,” might further endear these crafty Frenchmen to the Top 40 set. Heck, my mom might even unknowingly boogie to it at the next bar mitzvah she attends. But for now, Daft Punk remains weird enough, subversive enough, and punk enough to be entirely mine.