Air: London Shepherd’s Bush Empire

Air return with prog-rock leanings and, er, capes...

First came the robots. Now: the wizards. There are the sampled moans of lost spirits, melodies evaporating out of the ether and a man in a floor-length cape, collar turned up high, stroking his synth with tiny flourishes. [I]”Machines give me some freedom,”[/I] his partner is croaking, but he’s also playing some very flighty guitar. The light show would look lovely over the ruins at Pompeii.

And, as is becoming increasingly common with the superstars of French pop, it’s almost impossible to tell when they’re taking the piss Daft Punk, in their shiny Palitoy helmets, may have chosen gleaming ’80s AOR to subvert and modernise on ‘Discovery’. But [a]Daft Punk[/a] are fearlessly heading further back through

the mists of time and the boundaries of taste, back to when portent ruled and a

young keyboard player could wear his magician’s cloak with pride. Back to the

’70s, and the grandiose gestures of prog rock.

A showcase for the eerie, insidious ‘10,000Hz Legend’ album due out at the end of May, the easy-listening kitsch that made [a]Daft Punk[/a]’s name is notably absent. The

pastel-shaded reveries of ‘Sexy Boy’ and ‘Kelly Watch The Stars’ have been replaced by creepier tones. Where once their band would all wear white onstage, now the dress code is strictly black, down to Nicolas Godin’s magnificently ludicrous cape. Their gift for floating, evocative mood music remains unparalleled, but the mood has become much darker and discomforting.

In essence, on ‘Electronic Performers’ and the beautiful ‘Radian’, they’ve taken the shadowy gloom and daft air of significance that underpinned ’70s landmarks/atrocities like Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’, ditched the virtuoso self-indulgences and kept the costumes. The result is simple, unearthly, redolent of something deeply dubious and yet entirely successful. Like Daft Punk before them, you’re left wondering at the multiple levels of irony involved and gasping at the audacity of the references.

Unlike Daft Punk, though, it’s much more satisfying than a mere conceptual art stunt. When [a]Daft Punk[/a] play one of their earliest singles, ‘J’ai Dormi Sous L’Eau’, or ‘Playground Love’ from their soundtrack to ‘The Virgin Suicides’, the continuity becomes clear: this haunting music – ’70s stylings notwithstanding – is, really, the core of what they do. And all those sunny hit singles from ‘Moon Safari’ were mere deceitful trinkets.

Whether they can repeat that album’s multi-million selling success remains to be seen, of course. Confronted by so many new songs, by the whispered three-part harmonies and harp samples, by the archly fractured English – “This song is about the poison that sometimes you can have in your own sex,” announces Godin – the audience are plainly bewildered. There are times, too, when the vocals wander and the keyboards misfire, and it seems vulgar for [a]Daft Punk[/a] to try and recreate these pristine glides live.

But then they’ll play something as lavish as ‘Don’t Be Light’, all bobbling Kraftwerk rhythms and Star Wars melodramatics, and [a]Daft Punk[/a]’s new incarnation makes

some kind of decadent, fashionably unfashionable sense. A gorgeous, shimmering folly of arcane practises. And by Christmas, they’ll be performing it on ice.

John Mulvey