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Jean Michel Jarre reviewed

Rob Haynes sort of enjoys the old French charmer at the Opera House

Published on March 31st 2008.

Jean Michel Jarre reviewed

The Opera House is a glorious old building in which any artiste would surely be honoured to appear, but it’s still something of a shock to see Jean Michel Jarre there. Thirty years after his definitive Oxygene album firmly mainstreamed electronic music, the Frenchman has decided to perform the record in its entirety, forsaking his usual practice of performing in immense urban arenas and giving tonight, at least in relative terms, an oddly intimate air.

This is in part precisely what the music is for – for conscious thought to dissolve like a cosmic alka-seltzer.

The curtain pulls back to reveal a stage crammed with a car boot sale’s worth of vintage keyboards and a large white egg. The egg spins round to reveal Jarre sitting inside it like a Bond villain confronting his nemesis. He springs up and devours the resultant applause, looking almost sinisterly well preserved for 59 years old – devilishly slender, with a thick mane of dark hair, and dressed in elegant and expensive looking simplicity. Endearingly, he proceeds to walk about the front of the stage with a hand-held microphone and gives a background chat to the impending show, performing a brief explanatory riff on the Theremin (a distinctly vintage looking piece of equipment resembling a vandalised table football game) and recalling his previous visits to Manchester (namedropping Eric Cantona produces an uneasy cocktail of cheers and jeers).

As three accompanying musicians line up behind their instruments, Jarre explains that they have to tune the temperamental machines – ‘these old ladies’ – before they start. At £65 a ticket, it is perhaps reasonable to include a short soundcheck in the ticket price, and the various familiar sounding bloops and whooshes slowly bleed into the set proper, starting with a new introductory piece, somewhat noodling and noticeably not from the original album, but as the tidal sweep of ‘Oxygene Part 1’ unfolds across the auditorium a sense of cosmic magnitude settles. This is music as flotation tank therapy, and while not tuneful in the traditional pop music sense, one can imagine blue whales humming it as they glide through the ocean depths.

The reproduction is faithful, and reminds that the album’s success was based on the warmth and humanity of Jarre’s writing rather than the then-novelty of their being recorded on machines. As a spectacle, though, it naturally lacks a certain pizzazz, with the musicians twiddling studiously away looking like a row of washing machine engineers. By way of showboating, Jarre strolls out from behind his banks of keyboards at one point to brandish what looks like a curtain rail and plays it as a teenager would wield an air guitar, doing the same later in ‘Oxygene 5’ with a keyboard guitar, a rather ill-advised piece of extraneous flash.

Otherwise any sense of theatre is left to some tasteful but effective lighting, a colossal mirror which lowers from the ceiling to reflect a birds’ eye view of the musicians, and, when the closing ‘Oxygene 6’ is reached, a projection of the album’s iconic skull-within-the-earth artwork is projected onto the wall behind Jarre.

As time passes there is the occasional tendency for the mind to drift, particularly with the new linking pieces, but this is hardly a criticism in that this is in part precisely what the music is for – for conscious thought to dissolve like a cosmic alka-seltzer. For its duration, this is an elegant, otherworldly performance – but one which melts promptly back into the celestial ether upon stepping out into the blustery rain-soaked street afterwards.

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AnonymousMarch 31st 2008.

It was a load of rubbish, did you not notice people leaving in droves.......wish I was one of them. I can't believe I paid £65 per ticket.

jo6058March 31st 2008.

I was really dubious about the venue before going to this but it turned out to be fantastic - a really intimate gig with an incredible atmosphere. 10 out of 10.

ROBDOLPHIN66March 31st 2008.

anonymous 1 - Timberlake and Timberland???anonymous 2 - what were you expecting?Several other points:We all thought that it was a wonderful concert.I did not notice anybody leaving early.The people that gave him a standing ovation obviously enjoyed the concert.Have to agree that £65 per ticket is very expensive, but there were also £50 tickets available. Incidentally, we would not have paid full price but bought 3 tickets for £50 from a tout.How often are you going to get to see a world-famous musician in a venue as small as the Opera House?

AnonymousMarch 31st 2008.

he aint no timberlake and timberland

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