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This weekend has been monumental!

I have not seen “the big guy from France” for a few years (Athens 2001, I think) and have been eager with anticipation of his much publicised World Arena Tour since I first heard about it early in the year.

As somebody who has been a lifelong fan (my first CD was RendezVous, and I still have it) and who has seen Jarre half a dozen times (including the wet ‘n’ wild Destination Docklands on 8th October 1988 (as a tender 15 year old)) I was beginning to worry that I might not get to see him again, after all he is not getting any younger and must surely be thinking about not bothering with all the rigmarole associated to concerts and touring.

Despite being indoors (and with about 800,000 fewer people than his infamous extravanganzas of the past) I was like a kid on Christmas eve in the run up to the events, it is fair to say that knowing that I was due to see him twice in three days was almost too much to bear.

I have to say, just arriving in the arena in Birmingham (at the NIA) set the scene for me.  We were front and centre a mere 3 rows back and had a mark 1 eyeball view of more vintage gear than Camden Market in the Summer.

I swear.  There was every piece of analogue gear a boy could want on the stage.  There must have been a mile of patch cable and more wooden veneer than in an IKEA factory. It was heaven.

Modern concessions?  A sprinkling of Nord gear and more Roland TD pads than you can shake a baguette at, but not a Triton in sight; I couldn’t decide if I was jealous, really jealous or seriously jealous.

After a suitable time waiting, listening to “En Attendant Cousteau” (and overhearing all kinds of discussions about what people (plainly non-fans) were expecting of the show) the show kicked off with the haunting arpeggio from Oxygene Part 2 while the lighting slowly came to life.

I have to say the quality of the sound was staggering, plainly some serious engineering time had gone into getting things sounding right and the addition of some fairly serious sub-woofer cabinets stage left and right punched just the right amount of low frequency into the mix to give a BIG arena feel to what is, in reality, quite a small space.

Once complete en petit peau de anglais emerged from the man welcoming us to the show with his usual impish facial expression (he will always look like an excited kid playing with his dads tools to me) and we were then plunged into Magnetic Fields Part 1, a track I have always struggled with in a live context as I don’t see how it fits into a performance, but hey-ho, what do I know?

Queue lots of clapping and grimmacing from Jarre to get the crowd whipped up into a frenzy.

Running back behind his stack of keys, we were immersed into Equinoxe Part 7 (still one of my all time Jarre favorites) and the lights began to give us some idea of what might be coming – some awesome work from the lighting team illuminated sections of the stage and facias of individual instruments giving a real visual dimension to the show.

After Part 7, Equinoxe Part 5 leapt out and brought some folk to their feet (and a comment of “doesn’t it sound like the theme to Brookside” from a lady behind me) and our first glimpse of what the light crew had planned for us in their use of Lasers.  A great web of yellow formed around and across the stage working very well to the uptempo “pop” feel of the classic track.

Time for the Laser Harp!

For those not in the know, the Laser Harp is an instrument of Jarre’s (and presumably Michel Geiss) own making that uses Laser beams (which are then broken by hand movements to trigger MIDI instruments) to provide an awesome visual element to a couple of Jarre’s most haunting and moving pieces.

Although impressive outside, the Laser Harp is truly immense in an arena setting with the beams looking almost solid until Jarre slices his hands through them.

I’m not going to walk through the entire show in this entry (I may do in a future post when I have the time) but I include the set list here for posterity:

1. Oxygene Part 2
2. Magnetic Fields Part 1
3. Equinoxe Part 7
4. Equinoxe Part 5
5. Rendez-Vous Part 3 (Laser Harp)
6. Magnetic Fields Part 2
7. Souvenir of China
8. Oxygene Part 5
9. Variation 3
10. Theremin Piece
11. Equinoxe Part 4
12. Adagio
13. Industrial Revolution Part 2
14. Rendez-Vous 2 (all parts)
15. Rendez-Vous 4
16. Chronologie 6
17. Chronologie 2

Encore 1:
18. Oxygene Part 4
19. Oxygene Part 12

Encore 2:
20. Calypso Part 3 (Fin De Siecle)

All in all – awesome, immense, mind-numbing, bloody super-smashing, great!

Sunday saw us at the O2, a venue we often frequent to see the show again, but from a different angle, further out and off to one side.  Why?  So we could take in the spectacle in a more objective way visually and boy I am glad we did.

Our seats on Sunday afforded us a great view of (in my view) one of French musics’ unsung heros; Francis Rimbert.  Rimbert has been with Jarre (in the “band” as Jarre says) since the year dot and I have always felt a sense that he is a loyal and trusted friend of Jarre’s given some of the other trials and tribulations Jarre has had with others in his life (such as Dreyfuss).

In addition to being able to see Rimbert, our Sunday seats allowed us to really take in the visual aspects of the show including the truly mind-boggling animated backdrops that were like something usually only seen in an IMAX cinema.

Rest assured, if Jarre comes back again for more European dates, I will be there.  I have tried to get tickets for one of his France shows this month but no dice.

Anybody got one?