JEAN-MICHEL JARRE | LIVE REVIEW
Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff, Tue 4 Oct
You may be aware of the time-honoured ravers’ slogan “reach for the lasers!”, whose meaning is both literal and a sly allusion to a state of mashedness. Few evenings of amplified music will feature more, or more impressive, lasers than a gig by French synth superstar Jean-Michel Jarre, and they’re frequently synced to brisk-BPM electronic drums, thuddingly crisp basslines and euphoric chord sequences. Glancing around the all-seated arena, however, reaching of this type is all but non-existent, and when the occasional brave soul gets up to dance, they seem almost anarchic. It’s a curious experience for the uninitiated.
Jarre’s ascendance to fame via his 1976 LP Oxygène was unplanned, if not unprecedented (Tangerine Dream, Vangelis and Kraftwerk had all previously spun lengthy keyboard noodles into record label gold) but he’s been vastly popular ever since, known for playing concerts of almost incomparably grand scale. The capacity of the Motorpoint, in which he and his two band members have spent the last four days rehearsing ahead of this opening tour date, is slightly short of the 3.5 million he once regaled in Moscow, but still bustles with a largely middle-aged fanbase who – at the risk of judging books by their covers – don’t look as if Jarre’s influence on Detroit techno, German trance and 1980s electro weigh too heavily on their mind.
Early set highlight Automatic 2, written with Erasure’s Vince Clarke, is a close cousin of Robert Miles’ Children, whose ancestry unquestionably includes JMJ – it’s a chicken/egg thing. Circus, festooned with handclap FX which inspire the first bout of crowd interaction, is a funky number that NYC B-boys of old would have bodypopped to. Pet Shop Boys collaboration Brick England harnesses the best elements of both parties, while finding room for both autotune and keytar in liberal measure. Still, as pleasant as it is to hear Jarre feeding off the musicians he once inspired, or to big up Edward Snowden in the form of the bombastic Exit (which features vocals by said whistleblower), it’s the old classics that receive the loudest whoops.
Abetted by an increase in the lasers and onstage visuals from about 40 minutes into the set, Oxygène 4 is much more purposeful and muscular than the pretty, melancholy recorded version of old. Oxygène 8, which both anticipated techno’s tempo and employed a quickly-dated sweeping synth sound, is similarly brought up to date (is this what JMJ fans of a late-70s vintage want? I don’t know, I didn’t ask them). Equinoxe 4, from 1978’s Equinoxe, is made still more juddering and arrhythmic by two human drummers, and after a quick turn on his infamous laser harp – which sounds a chord every time Jarre passes a white-gloved hand through a beam – we’re treated to a world premiere of Oxygène 17, from an imminent 40th anniversary album.
Then, with a cry of “one more for the road!” – Jarre’s four decades at the top have led him no closer to appearing ‘cool’ onstage, and he’s more endearing for it – he signs off with a wheel of trance fromage, the Armin Van Buuren-penned Stardust. The bloke next to me thinks 105 minutes was too short a set, although he concedes that it’s longer than ELO played recently. This reporter was grateful for a comfy seat as much as he was discombobulated by the experience of thousands of punters sitting politely to thumping electronica.
words NOEL GARDNER photos EMMA LEWIS