Jean-Michel Jarre in the 3Arena, Dublin, on Monday October 10th 2016
What can you expect from a composer and visual artist with almost a half century of experience in the manipulation of sounds and senses? Jean-Michel Jarre is a man with many strings to his bow – beams to his lazer harp, even – and last year’s ‘Electronica 1: The Time Machine’ was an expansive collaborative effort with contributions from a diverse array of musicians, from John Carpenter and Laurie Anderson to Pete Townshend and Fuck Buttons. Its companion piece, ‘Electronica 2: The Heart of Noise’, followed this summer with an equally eclectic mix of artists…where else are you going to find Cyndi Lauper and Edward Snowden sharing a tracklist?
Kicking of tonight’s encore with new song Oxygène 17, Jarre talks of the imminent anniversary of one of his best-loved works, and it was during the making of the aforementioned ‘Electronica’ projects that the idea for the final chapter of his ‘Oxygène’ series originated. ‘Oxygène 3’ is now due for release in December – the third and final album in the trilogy – almost exactly forty years after the first instalment in 1976.
A minimalist ambient interim bridges the gap between Marco Grenier’s DJ set – better suited to a more intimate roomful of dancing bodies than an all-seated 3Arena – and the main event; a tech-heavy audio-visual miscellanea. Three islands of equipment lie between three layers of hanging LED screens, the foremost of which splits apart to reveal Jarre waving from behind a crescent of synths and a large, tactile translucent screen. The audio set-up is a gearhead’s wet dream, while the visuals provide an immersive embellishment: vertical LED panels interlocking in various configurations – curtained, in single file or in a solid block – moving back and forth across the stage, both illuminating and obscuring Jarre as the music dictates.
From his perch stage-front, Jarre casts a glance over each shoulder every so often; as if making sure his multi-instrumentalist cohorts, Claude Samard and Stephane Gervais, are with him on the next transition. They’re rock-solid though, even when Jarre deviates from the intended setlist after a conversation with a person earlier in the day about their favourite of his albums, ‘The Concerts in China’. Tellingly then, the LEDs are off during Souvenir Of China save for some mood lighting; testament to the spontaneity of the track’s insertion into the Dublin selection.
Jarre is in chatty form through the set, joking that “the pressure is on to ensure we all have some craic tonight” before an early-set Oxygène 2. After a preamble about his Pet Shop Boys collaboration, Brick England, he invites the crowd to rise up, coaxing the majority to their feet before taking a turn stage-front with the keytar – as gleefully exuberant as that particular instrument demands its player to be. It’s a transformative switch-up of the mood in the room – a clubbier vibe that continues into Oxygène 4, even if the mass stand-up is short lived.
“I’m not sure what I’m going to do is going to work” Jarre tells us in advance of The Time Machine, a pair of white gloves in hand. Some call it a hoax – an ‘instrument’ that elicits sound from light at the touch of a hand – but nonetheless the lazer harp has become synonymous with Jarre; emitting notes when his palm strikes one of the nine long beams of green light that pierce the darkness from the small box on the floor of the stage. Hoax or not, the value of spectacle is something Jarre is only too happy to exploit. He incites an uprising from the stalls one last time for his Armin van Buuren collaboration, Stardust, as the crowd clap along with the pulse of the synth – as it builds to its crescendo, no-one is bouncing more than the man himself.
Considering the wealth of material Jarre has to draw from, and the kick drum-driven new numbers, it’s a shame this had to be an all-seated affair – there’s a palpable itchiness to dance in certain quarters. Still though, between the visuals and the equipment, the gregarious host, and the music merging from ambient soundscapes into the more banging beats of Jarre’s recent output, there’s plenty in here to hold the attention over a career-spanning spin through the imagination of a pioneering artist.