Jean Michel Jarre occupies a peculiar niche in the history of electronic music. One of the most commercially successful composers of the past 30 years, he has nevertheless been largely written out of the annals of electronica.
While contemporaries such as Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream are feted today as boundary-smashing pioneers, Jarre tends to be disparaged as a purveyor of woolly new-age muzak. Perhaps this is because we expect our innovators to be eccentric and tortured, and that Jarre, an amiable Parisian with luxuriant curls and a louche air, doesn't quite fit the stereotype.
For his latest tour, Jarre is revisiting his breakout LP, Oxygene.
Released originally in 1976, the album is a suite of warm, discordant instrumentals which loosely address the theme of environmentalism. To keep the show from feeling too slick and pre-rehearsed , Jarre has brought with him the gargantuan synthesizers that adorn the original record.
Jarre believes these antediluvian keyboards are the electronic-era equivalent of priceless Renaissance violins. "It is the dream of every violinist today to play a 400-year-old violin," he tells the National Concert Hall during an introductory address. "To me, these 'old ladies' have the same place. Without them, there would be no Jean Michel Jarre, there would be no electronic music at all."
For someone so often slapped down with the easy-listening tag, Jarre, in his early work, proves surprisingly diffuse and perhaps even a little impenetrable. Flanked by banks of synths and samplers, the musician and his trio of 'assistants' devote their time on stage to conjuring creaking drifts of ambient noise and juddering whale sounds.
Accompanied by a tasteful light show, the cumulative effect is pleasantly numbing. The spell is truly broken only once, when Jarre raises the tempo, and the audience's pulse, with the ethereal groove of 'Oxygene IV'.