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22 May 2009

Jean Michel Jarre: In-Doors

Review of Wembley Arena show by Sean McManus. Photo by Miemo Penttinen in Helsinki

When Jarre played London in 1988, he set Docklands ablaze with fireworks, projections, army searchlights and lasers. In the middle of it all, were some men and some keyboards on a floating stage, dwarfed by the spectacle around them.

This year, the musicians and the keyboards are the stars. For a man who's used the cities of Houston and Lyon as his stage, Wembley Arena is an intimate venue. As Jarre emerges through a sheet of light playing Industrial Revolution on a keytar, it's clear things will be different this time around: he's improvising, and as the show unfolds, it's more relaxed and looser than any of his cityscape record-breakers.

Last year's tour saw Jarre bring his analogue synths out of the studio to perform his hit Oxygene album. Jarre took pride in the odd mistake because it proved the performance was live. Rejuvenated by that tour, he has extended the concept to his whole back catalogue and is now reinterpreting classics from Equinoxe, Chronologie and Rendez-Vous.

During Rendez-Vous II, Jarre runs his hands through the laser harp to play a scale and show it's a real instrument. He teases ghostly shrieks from a theremin, and concocts strange sounds with the keyboards, flitting around like a mad wizard in his laboratory. The lights are there to illuminate the stage and draw attention to it, rather than to be the show itself.

Fans dance for the encore but for most of the show, they are content to let the dreamy synthscapes wash over them. For those who have followed Jarre's other-worldly music for decades, it's an emotional experience to hear it played properly live, perhaps for the first time.

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