Seriously, how does Jean Michel Jarre stay looking so young? He must be zapping his wrinkles with those lasers. Or maybe it’s the exercise – he’s bounding around the O2 stage like a pixie after his giddy pro-wrestler-style entrance, skipping down the aisles from the top tiers, wading through the crowd giving high-fives. The 62-year-old (!) French icon is in the middle of a world arena tour – and for a man who keeps smashing his own crowd-pulling world records (3.5 million in Moscow in 1997 tops the table), this O2 show could well go down as a humble little get-together.
State last caught Jarre in the National Concert Hall in 2008, when he greeted the audience by swivelling around in an egg chair, giving a tutorial on his collection of antique synths then playing the whole of his 1976 opus Oxygene. He was quick to defer to his instruments then – calling them the “real stars of the show”, as he treated the album as a classical suite, with minimal lighting and a mirrored ceiling to give us a Jarre’s-eye view of his electronic workstations. There’s no such modesty at the O2 though. He’s straight in there, no kissing, with the trancey ‘Chronologie II’ then ‘Oxygene II’, hammering the keys on his Moog and shaking like a possessed conductor, bouffant hair flapping. Subtlety’s out the window.
Ever the analogue fetishist, Jarre’s banks of ’70s synths grace the stage, a dramatic tangle of wires, valves and diodes working overtime, with bulbs flashing as his three co-pilots play backing melodies and booming electronic drums. The O2’s acoustics handle the sound layers perfectly, from the warm synth bubbles and fizzes on ‘Calypso’ to the full-throttle sci-fi onslaught of ‘Equinoxe V’ – which causes a few fans to curse the all-seating arrangement as they awkwardly dance in the stalls.
Jarre is one for grand gestures, and while this arena tour is a step back from beaming mile-long projections on Houston skyscrapers, or multi-million dollar firework displays at the Pyramids, it’s still a laser overload, with a non-stop spectrum of beams bouncing off the stage and into the crowd. The big screen films are real eyeball-pleasers too, with the night’s winners the rollercoaster ride into the inner workings of a giant synth during ‘Equinoxe VII’, and the freaky goggle-eyed figures spiralling off into infinity and exploding into fractals as ‘Equinoxe IV’ takes hold.
Of course he’s got an arsenal of electro toys too – from the daft mini splash cymbal (used to comical effect on ‘Magnetic Fields II’) to the keytar he straps on to channel Steve Vai for the overblown solo on ‘Oxygene V’. He even wrestles with the theremin for some 1950s B-movie sound effects. And then, holy shit, he fires up the legendary laser harp, using his palms to slice into the green beams, first for ‘Rendez-Vous III’ then ‘Rendez-Vous II’ – a gothic choral piece so ridiculously epic it seems to cram about 20 albums, a few novels and the odd opera into its 15 minutes.
There’s no need for visual overload during the encore though, as the famous five-note motif of Oxygene IV unites the die-hard older fans and the casual observers who know the tune from hundreds of soundtracks, electronic compilations and 1980s games arcades. The crowd wallows in the soft synth swathes, Monsieur Jarre wallows in the adulation, and we all rush off to put the laser harp on our fantasy Christmas wish-list.
So what’s next for Jean Michel? He’s probably taken this new age electro space opera caper as far as he can – but he recently said his greatest ambition is to play a concert ON THE MOON. A tenner says he makes that giant leap.
Photos by Loreana Rushe.