The Oxygène Experience

I first heard the music of Jean-Michel Jarre when I was 12 or 13 years old.  A friend introduced it to me (Friends:  Introducing you to wicked music since forever) off some multi-artist compilation album that was popular at the time.  I loved it immediately.  Symphonic, melodic, electronic, playful, the music was chock full of journey and wonder.  It was a few years later before I got my hands on one of his complete albums, and later still the libraries in Ottawa proved very useful in listening to the rest of his work (Libraries: Giving you access to all sorts of cool stuff since forever).   To this day, I continue to love it.  They are timeless and still filled with wonder.

So when I heard he was coming to town as part of his first ever North American tour, there was no way in hell I was going to miss it.  This Friday past, Yebo and I travelled back to the Greek theatre to once again be amazed in aural glory.

It most certainly didn’t disappoint.

There was one weird aspect:  how empty the venue was.  Jean-Michel was a pioneer in the electronic music scene (note this was not Electronic Dance Music, but much more melodic and classical-like) back in the 70s and 80s.  Just recently it was the 40 year anniversary of his first big album, Oxygène.  He has held/broken the world record for largest attendance at a concert four times – currently standing at 3.5 million (!) people in attendance.  He is not exactly a small figure in the music world.  I had the sense he’d never become a very big name in North America, and perhaps even more so recently in an out-of-sight-out-of-mind kind of way.  Apparently, indeed, and it was a bit odd to be standing before someone who was so influential in so many of the artists and acts that are popular today (including those in North America) and yet look behind me and see so much empty.  That said, what it did mean is that those who were in attendance last night were those “in the know.”  Die-hard fans, if you will.  And like seeing a movie at a midnight showing on opening night, with a crowd who is most definitively into it, it made for an atmosphere that was extra electrifying.  We all got into it hard.

And Jarre and his two band mates played equally hard and rocked it up into our excitement, putting in a show fit for those with millions.  It was a trip to see them all surrounded by keyboards and pads and a gaggle of other instruments, and doubly a trip to see super slick cutting edge tablets sitting right next to the old-school electronics peppered with hundreds of dials that needed to be tuned to make the sounds just so.  Witnessing that was a delight in its own right, and through well placed cameras (including ones on a pair of glasses), we got a first-hand look at all the keying and dialing and back and forth.

With such a large discography to pull from, Jarre pulled from all eras, from the first Oxygène album through Equinox and others and right on up to his most recent Oxygène 3, including a healthy smattering from his also-quite-recent Electronica 1 & 2 albums.  The songs from the Electronica albums are decidedly much more uptempo than the earlier works, and that theme carried through all the songs he played.  Even the old school works were uptempoed and, moreover, upintensified (a heaver/stronger/louder beat).   It was powerful stuff, though unfortunately at times to the detriment of the tracks.  Jarre’s work comes through strongest inside the melodic journeys within, and the up-oomphing of the tracks did have the side effect of drowning out those melodies and somewhat losing that essential journey.  They weren’t completely lost, however, and it was fun to hear the variations on a familiar tune.  Overall, it a small niggle amidst an amazing night of music.

And when Jean-Michel invited us to get up and dance, well, how could we not oblige?  No sense in letting all those good beats go to waste!

How do you run a concert for several million people?  By becoming a master of spectacle, and I was in giddy anticipation for what visual treats he would serve up for us as much as I was for the music.  It was, to be sure, more sedate than those epic mega-concerts, but still kickin’ for the size of the venue.  The main element was 3 of those LED curtain/lattices, arranged fore, mid, and aft stage, with the first two being able to split and travel horizontally.  This created a movable 3D grid of pixels that was used to great effect in a wonderful variety of ways, from straight-up overlapping images/projections to abstract shapes that would travel backwards and forwards and rotate around and encompass the entire stage, to solid panels of light and colour in abstract geometric flashes, to everything in between.  Of course, there were also a plethora of lasers, including some that rotated and peppered through the crowd with polychromatic beams, and others that created solid angled and waved planes of light, creating fantastic spatial forms that shimmered and hovered over our heads.  It was an amazing extravaganza of visual awesomeness that matched the equally amazing music.

Fabulous, fabulous concert, in so many ways.  I had a total blast.  Another great experience that will linger.  It took 30 years for me to be able to see him live in concert, and it was well worth the wait.


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