Jean Michel Jarre had already been to London before, in 1988, in the Docklands under the rain, making the city shudder with his megashow of light, music and laser. Those were other times, and that was another Jarre. His return to London in 2008, with Oxygene, his first album, is quite different.
A visit to the Royal Albert Hall the eve of the concert provides a surprise to the fan: ¿where are the giant posters? ¿Where the merchandising? There was nothing. As if the man who brought 3,5 million spectators together in Moscow was not performing in less than 24 hours.
Getting into the Royal Albert Hall is getting into the 19th century: the red felt of the fitted carpets, the limelights, the wooden handrails and the golden ornaments transport you to the Victorian Age, to the spectacles for the nobility and wealthy middle-class from London. An odd place to perform electronic music… or not, because, although it is on tour for the first time as a whole, Oxygene is 30 years old. You can see it in the audience, which age, with exceptions on both sides, is around 40. Ticket’s high price and the exclusivity of the enclosure could be a reason, but also that Oxygene is not of this time, that the skull in the Earth globe does not impress young people, that Jarre has his audience, and it is what it is.
“It is not allowed to take photos”, says the stewardess. It’s a lost battle, because the flashes bright all around without stop, and the concert hasn’t started yet.. The place is worth the pictures: the 7.000 seats of the London coliseum get occuped while Waiting for Cousteau plays. Of course: it’s the prelude to every Jarre concert since 1991. A shiver in the nape of the neck: if Waiting for Cousteau is playing, this is really serious.
30 minutes late, which permit even an anonimous “We want Ethnicolor!” from the crowd, the black courtain opens and, from a white egg shaped chair stands up Jean Michel Jarre. “Good evening, London!”, and an ovation as an answer. In a brief introduction he makes references to his prior visit in 1988, to the opportunity to play in a more intimate ambiance (relatively, because there are 6.500 people listening to him, but, after the 2,5 million people in Paris in 1991, he may thinks this is not too much), and to a chain that falls from the ceiling and nearly hits him and his instruments on the stage. The dedication to Arthur C. Clarke earns another applause before the introduction of the other musicians: Dominique Perrier, an old friend; Claude Samard, the boat captain, and Francis Rimbert, fans beloved.
The four take positions on the stage: with around fifty analog synthesizers (Jarre called them old ladies), it looks more like the bridge of a spaceship than a theatre. And, guided by the french, slowly, we start a journey through time, through the light and darkness of Oxygene. First, the tuning, then the prelude, and the first applause with the first chords of Oxygene part 1. With the beginning of the more rythmic second part, a new applause and, now yes, this is Oxygene, this is Jarre and the lights dance, the sequences sound clear in Albert Hall’s perfect acoustic, Rimbert carries the powerful bass and Jean Michel the well known melody. Pure spectacle. In the third part he adds the abstract sounds of the Theremin and links with the Variation I, an analog improvisation barely tolerable. When it’s over, I wonder if people claps because thanks to God it’s finished, or because the wind noise that sounds is the unmistakable signal of what’s coming… Oxygene 4, the hymn, the five notes that took Jarre to glory, the reason why we all are there. It’s short, but it’s ecstasy. Jarre can’t help it, he’s used to huge megashows, and his body asks him to jump, run from one synth to another, look to the audience and smile in this moment, between obscure improvisations, when he knows that we’re all with him.
A gigant mirror comes down from the ceiling. Standing over the four musicians, it offers a new perspective for those in front of them. And the lights, which don’t light the musicians, but the synths, multiply themselves.
The fifth part, unfortunately, carries another improvisation, this time with a portable Moog keyboard. It’s live sound, it’s clear. And, to finish, Oxygene 6, with its catchy rhythm and its bittersweet melody. The mirror goes back and leaves space for a screen on which, for the first time during the concert, images are projected: a blue Earth globe that turns around to show a skull. A thousand flashes can be seen at this point. Thanks, Granger, for this picture.
The end is coming, but we know that there’re still a couple of themes. First, Oxygene 12: analog sounds 30 years old for a very contemporary rhythm. On the screen the cycle of life goes by with black and white pictures, and the person in charge of the lights earns his distinction. Using this set up, Jarre gave the protagonism to the synths themselves, lighted one by one, now another, now all together, following the rhythm.
“Thank you, London”. The four, embraced, greets the audience and its huge applause. If someone among the audience was disappointed, doesn’t show. After going out briefly, Jean Michel comes back alone for the perfect final. The light is minimal, and there are no lighters up, although they wouldn’t have been out of place. “This theme is for you, and for those you love”. And it’s Oxygene 13, with its melancholic goodbye melody. A final improvisation at the end makes us dream of another theme, but it’s only an ilusion.
“Thank you London, and see you soon!”. It’s over. The journey, two hours or so, seemed longer… nearly… ¿thirty years?