Blue light and soft ambient synths wash over 20,000 of us as we sit in this large, featureless venue, awaiting Jean-Michel Jarre and the first night of his full Electronica World Tour. You have to wonder when this pioneer’s artistic stock was quite so high. His brace of Electronica albums has seen him introduced to a new generation of fans through collaborations with younger electronica artists. And besides, in these benighted times we need the type of spectacular light show only he can provide.
It’s hard to believe the man we applaud onstage is pushing 70. Smiling, waving, in sunglasses, grey shirt and jeans, he looks and moves like someone 20 years younger. He addresses us more often than expected, too. “Thank you Cardiff,” he says in a pleasingly thick French accent after Oxygène Pt II. “We’ve been rehearsing for days here. It’s a lot warmer with you in here too.”
Music aside, it takes a lot to perfect a show as technically intricate as this. As well as judiciously employed lasers, a series of chainmail-style curtains hang between the audience and Jarre. These light up, moving and interacting in parallax with a similar installation upstage. At times they pulse red, blue or orange; at others, huge boxes of light and even skulls hover and revolve on them in utterly convincing 3D, then an eerie horde of binocular-eyed figures descend. The curtains also function as huge video screens, giving close-ups of Jarre’s face and fingers, busy on keyboards, or on iPad.
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It’s an incredible extravaganza and some of the more dance music-friendly fans here can’t believe their luck – it’s like the best Ibiza club night of all time. They whoop, stand in their seats and the aisles, and wave their hands like pistols to the beat.
Elsewhere, Jarre’s props include a Les Paul, a Keytar and, that crowd-pleaser, his light harp. His touchstone anthems are here – The Time Machine, parts of Équinoxe, the gorgeous Souvenirs De Chine and – every amateur magician’s favourite – Oxygène Pt IV. But the accent is on the Electronica LPs. These are very techno in parts, with Circus and final encore Stardust particularly pounding live. The Pet Shop Boys are replaced on Brick England by the vocoded voices of Stéphane Gervais and Claude Samard, the co-musicians flanking Jarre tonight. During Exit, his unsettling collaboration with Edward Snowden, the CIA whistle-blower’s head is projected in massive, Big Brother proportions (‘If you don’t stand up for [privacy], then who will?’).
The majestic Glory, recorded with French duo M83, gets a big response, as does a surprise world premiere. Oxygène 17 is a magnificent new piece bridging two eras of a pioneering career – one that, today, has fresh energy surging through it.