Review: Jarre 101010 @O2 Arena, London

intimate, and very much alive.

Jarre 2010 tour graphic

Jean Michel Jarre has long been a hero of mine right from when I first become musically sentient at around five or six years old. Since then I’ve enjoyed much of his studio-recorded material and had always wondered how it had been put together.  I had even been taken to see him live in London at his Destination Docklands show back in 1988 – where as a family we watched the drier Saturday night performance, rather than the Sunday night whose footage eventually got released as the (awful) official Mike Mansfield video. And so with those brief statements of bias over, on to the concert itself.

crowd

All age groups and ethnic/cultural backgrounds were represented, and much more univerally than one might find at most gigs.  There were families, couples, groups of friends, all talking quietly before the gig began. It was a shame that the majority of the crowd didn’t seem at all responsive except for the .  Sure, some arms were waving and a few people danced their way through Chronologie 6, but on the whole the crowd was terribly English.  It was more like being at a specialist classical Promenade than a pop concert.  Which is perhaps appropriate given Jarre’s roots and following.

music

I was pleasantly surprised by how little modern material was included.  Highlights from all albums up to and including Oxygene 7-13 were played very much in their original styles, with perhaps some hints at more modern sounds and technology.

Some lines from the Equinoxe numbers were missing, particularly the vocoder sections, which made me wonder whether Jarre et al. had somehow forgotten how to create the original sounds.

Otherwise the pieces took on a new life in their freshly-human-played glory.  There were some glitches, some tuning and timing errors and perhaps the odd mis-keyed note or two here and there, but I felt if anything these added to the “live” and “intimate” aims for both the performance and as it would appear, the whole 2010 tour.

The backing musicians were enthralling to watch, and their restrained minimalist motions looked very much more “Kraftwerk” than Jarre himself, who took on the persona of a mad scientist plotting and doing all kinds of terrible evil in a B-movie labroratory. A contrast that worked very effectively, and added a certain depth to the music we were hearing.

Success.

sound

The sheer depth that those synth sounds have in them was simply astonishing.  Every instrument was allowed full range of the sound system, subs and all.  And as if the impact of percussion and bass lines wasn’t enough, some of the leads were seismic.  Admittedly we were sat right by the sub-woofers, but even when they weren’t moving the earth, the warmth and immediacy of the analogue synths was immediately obvious.  As a case in point, any sound that used white noise as a basis for further synthesis was evident by the subs waking up even for cymbals – something one would never hear in a front room at even high domestic listening levels.  Standard mastering processes simply wouldn’t allow for that kind of depth.

Further, the dynamic range was immense compared with most concerts I’ve attended where sound reinforcement was in use.  The sound operator was clearly having a great time, and that meant the full impact of the music came through without having to blast anyone’s ears off.  Sure, there were loud passages, but this gig was mixed for impact and that really showed.

Alas there was one negative note:  those of us at the sides really didn’t get to hear much of the stereo image.  Many of the timing cues in Jarre’s percussion programming tend to be spread across the stereo soundstage, so we occasionally got lost!  A mono’d mix to the sides would have worked much better for us at the risk of losing some depth.

Over all?  Success, with some areas I’d love to see improved – particularly the distribution of the stereo field around the auditorium.

laser harp

Jarre at the Laser Harp

Allegedly “revised” according to the programme, though I’m not sure how?  The one at Docklands was a much more structral, fixed affair, that much is true.  But the one I saw this evening was markedly similar to many I’ve recently seen on YouTube.  Perhaps this tour has been running long enough that I’ve become accustomed to the new version, but I’m sure this isn’t all that new.  It certainly looked awesome, and some how having such a visual instrument was a key element to the show. Okay so perhaps Jarre is just showing off for the sake of it here, but let’s face it, if you could get that kind of sound out of lifeless electronics, why wouldn’t you try to make it look cool at the same time?

Verdict:  Cool.

theremin

Jarre plays the Theremin for "Babel's Tower".

Wow.  My jaw hit the floor pretty hard when he brought that thing out.  It’s a rare treat to see anyone use one of these, let alone at a live concert.  The soul and emotion he gave that instrument frankly brought a tear to my eye.  Astonishing to watch, all the more astonishing to hear the atmospheric and emotive effect it could have.

Verdict:  Overwhelming. And cool.

(I’ll not mention the electic accordion).

video

Equinoxe "faces" video

The use of video effects was quite understated, perhaps to help support the much more intimate feel of the tour as a whole, and if that was the brief then it was very successful.  There was an interesting moment where “eyes”, particularly those of insects, were a dominant feature for some of the more modern Oxygene 7-13 material featured, and I didn’t quite understand where that was coming from, nor what the possible message might be.

Stats for Jarre's UNESCO solo. I don't remember that he gave a title for it?

Jarre played a solo piece on what looked like a Triton, dedicated to the work of UNESCO.  The piece alone was moving enough, but the simple animated slide behind it (shown above) put some commonly-found statistics and environmental issues into startling perspective.  Simple, and very effective.

Where live footage was used it was usually processed into a film-noir, German expressionist look, which looked both futuristic and incredibly old-fashioned at the same time.  Very much a nod to the old “Industrial Revolution” theme of the 80’s Docklands event.

The closing song (Calypso 3) made use of Jarre’s trademark Keytar, and the live footage focussing on him with a Cyanotype monochromatic effect was incredibly striking, and even more so with the full-width rear-projection screen.

A great use of the current technology, and probably some prototypes the rest of us mere mortals might be able to afford in 5-10 years.

lighting

Moody, yet understated lighting!

Like the video graphics, the lighting was understated compared with what previous Jarre concerts have been in the past, but a very full palette of both colour and texture.  If there were a word I’d associate with the design, it was “tight”.  Like Jarre’s music, everything was there in its place, for a reason.  Anything else was left out.  In particular the use of shuttered lighting to use the Mellotron backs as wash-light sources was particularly impressive, not perhaps in itself, but certainly as an example of the fine detail that went into the design.

Multi-coloured laser effect (Click to see a bigger version)

As now seems compulsory for a Jarre concert, we saw extensive use of lasers and similar effects, giving the earlier material a “Tron”-like look that felt completely appropriate.  The lasers were multi-coloured (perhaps visible in the above image, the “white” beam actually made up of red, green and blue beams merging together) – a first for any gig I’ve seen!

At no time did I feel the lighting was distracting from the showa job well done, I think.

summary

In all then, the show was very much worth both the wait and the money.  I’d recommend the show anyone with even the slightest interest in Jarre himself or the electronica genre that he has helped create.

If you get a chance to see any other leg of his 2010 world tour, go see it!  You won’t be disappointed.