Frenchmen with lasers

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Mai 18 2009, 16h29

I can cross out another name on my list of artists to see live (before they get too old to tour, I might add if I were mean): last Saturday I saw Jean Michel Jarre when his IN-DOORS world tour made a stop at Hartwall Areena in Helsinki. I went with an old friend from way back and seized the opportunity to visit him and his fiancée for the weekend while I was in town. Beer-drinking ensued and as far as I could tell, a good time was had by all.

We had booked early and got great seats, in the third row, with an excellent view of the maestro himself as well as long-time collaborator Francis Rimbert, stationed on our side of the stage. Across the stage I could see Dominique Perrier whenever Jarre wasn't standing in the line of sight, but of the fourth musician (Claude Samard?) I only saw the occasional glimpse of a drumstick or mallet.

The set list was perhaps a bit too predictable, relying heavily on Jarre's most popular compositions. I haven't heard any of his post-90s work, yet there was maybe one number in the entire set I didn't recognise, so it was largely an "oldies" set: three tracks from Oxygène, three from Equinoxe, two from Magnetic Fields... On the other hand, it's not as if I'd ever heard any of those tunes live before, so perhaps there isn't much point in acting disappointed.

Another small complaint I have is that at almost 80 eur per ticket, I would have expected a bit more show in terms of laz0rz and such. Of course the arena environment is pretty restrictive compared to the huge outdoor spectacles Jarre is famous for (I recall being greatly impressed by the concert video for Destination Docklands, despite watching it on my puny TV), so I guess they did what the circumstances allowed. Besides, I have to admit it was pretty cool when, at the beginning, he walked out through a seemingly solid sheet of white light, playing Industrial Revolution: Part 2, and then at the end did the same thing in reverse.

So, all in all it was a damn fine show and money well spent. Some of the highlights for me:

  • Second rendez-vous, my all-time favourite JMJ composition, played in full length, demonstrating the heights of symphonic glory that a platoon of synthesizers can reach.
  • Calypso Part 3 (Fin De Siècle) as the slow "farewell" tune. Not the most obvious choice, but very appropriate in my opinion; it has a certain "we'll meet again" feel to it. I was not at all surprised to see some lighters thrust into the air during this number.
  • The novelty instruments: the theremin, the accordion, the iconic laser harp. I'd love to have a go at the theremin one day - it must be a tough instrument to master.
  • The trio of gentlemen with silly hats in the front row, who made it delightfully evident that they were having the time of their lives.


With Jarre's sort of music it can be hard to tell how much of it is actually played live, but it seemed to my semi-expert eye that quite a good bit of it was, once with misfortunate consequences: the laser harp went suddenly dark in the penultimate part of Second Rendez-vous when Jarre was supposed to play the lead with it, leaving the rhythm track playing alone in a rather sad manner. I thought he'd made the classic stage musician's mistake of treading on the wrong pedal (done that a few times myself), but in his blog entry he just says it froze for "unknown reasons". Whatever the cause of the accident, afterwards I saw him operate a foot controller, frantically trying to find the right program to get back on track. A speedy recovery was made and the piece was brought to a happy finish.

After the show we went to a pub, where we saw a bit of this year's Eurovision Song Contest on the TV, including enough of the vote counting to see that Norway was going to win hands down. The following day, before I left Helsinki, I made tentative plans with my friend to go see Kraftwerk when they come to Finland in August. Between that, the Savonlinna Opera Festival, a couple of gigs with my own bands and at least one academic conference, it looks like I have an interesting summer ahead of me.

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