Review: Daft Punk’s “Alive 2007″

Dec 5, 2007 3:41pm

If you’ve ever gone to see an electronic band live, odds are you know it can sometimes not be that enthralling an experience. The day after when you are recounting the events of the evening to your friends, you may say, “It was an hour and a half of some guy standing behind a console twiddling knobs, while lasers blinded me, and  a loud, incessant beat drilled at my eardrums!”  Thankfully it’s obvious from one listen to Daft Punk’s new live album that the French duo delivers a remarkably engaging live performance.

Known for dressing in robotlike disguises, the duo of Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo are known for their goofy inventiveness, and as it turns out, that is evident in this live set. This is by no means just the casual spinning of the same old standard loops.  This is a group reinventing and twisting classics for the audience before them.  In more than 12 tracks, they incorporate elements of 25 of their songs into a virtually seamless sonic stew.  It’s a mash-up extravaganza.  Parts of newer songs are mixed with parts of older songs to create a “live remix” effect, and the results are stirring.

It’s amazing that this works so remarkably well considering how uneven their career has been.  Their 1997 debut “Homework” is considered an electronica classic.  It’s full of many difficult sounds but once you get used to the overall vibe, it’s a stunning piece of looping magnetism.  In 2001, they delivered “Discovery,” an uneven, often disappointing attempt to grab the mainstream audience’s attention.  It worked.  “One More Time” became a huge hit, despite being one of the most bothersome singles of that year.  The group’s reliance on little-known, cheeseball guest vocalists brought that record down significantly.  Luckily, “Discovery” also had a few excellent back-to-basics tracks like “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” to hold it up.  In 2005, they delivered “Human After All,” a challenging, often painfully repetitive exercise in robotlike precision.  It was closer to “Homework,” yet much more of an ordeal to get through.  It thankfully though didn’t reek of “sellout attempt” quite like “Discovery” did.

The miracle of “Alive 2007″ is that all these songs pop tremendously and live harmoniously when mixed together.  Snippets of weaker tracks get new life, and thus become better.  The human element is more evident here than on the studio recordings.

As “Face to Face” and “Short Circuit” merge, a well-tweaked sequence of blips slows and speeds up like it never would on record.  You can feel the human hands at work.

“Technologic” is begun by a half-speed section of the computerized vocals being repeated over and over before it kicks into gear.  When it picks up, they proceed to thoroughly tear the house down.  You can hear the happiness in the crowd’s ecstatic reaction.

Blending two monumental standouts like “Around the World” and “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” together is an obvious yet well-thought out move, and it serves both tracks well.

Even something as insipid as “One More Time” is served well by blending it with the far superior “Aerodynamic.”  To make it even better, guest vocalist Romanthony’s part on the former is spliced and electronically tweaked in a successful attempt to make it more appealing.  It works.  The more fiddled-with and obscured it gets, the more it fits in with the best elements of Daft Punk’s repertoire.

The crowd claps along for a brief moment with “Rollin’ and Scratchin’” as it blends with “Prime Time of Your Life.”  This is the sign of a fully engaged audience, not a numbed-out gaggle staring at “a guy behind a console.”

The video-game laser-shot sounds of “Daftendirekt” work nicely alongside the sly mid-tempo strut of “Da Funk.”  When the digitized voice of “Television Rules the Nation” gives way to the very animated “Crescendolls,” it is cause to rejoice.  This set is full of such moments.

It’s rare for electronic groups to release live albums, partly because they really do rely on studio magic to expertly craft their tunes. This is Daft Punk’s second live album, following “Alive 1997,” but here they have more history to work with than they did a decade ago.   They prove that electronic live albums can be done right.  This may be the most essential disc they’ve released thus far, perhaps even giving a more substantial overview than their best-of collection from last year.  It’s actually a surprisingly good place for new fans to start.

True to its title, the songs of Daft Punk really do indeed come alive.

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