Thursday June 21, 2001
Jean-Michel Jarre, the
French synthesizer superstar, has already played in front of the Eiffel
Tower and on the Thames, and used Hong Kong and Houston skyscrapers as
backdrops for his extravaganzas. By his usual standards, the
2,000-year-old Herodus Atticus Odeon, situated on the edge of the
Acropolis, is almost intimate. The crowd of 5,000 perched on the
vertigo-inducing stands has come to party and Jarre starts with
something they all know - Oxygene Part 4, the track that started the
ball rolling 24 years ago. There's a certain irony in performing this
piece in one of the most polluted cities in the world.
ancient wall behind the musicians is lit up with stellar constellations
thanks to the wonders of back projection. But the evening turns out to
be not so much about Jarre and his showman tendencies, more about his
attempt to take the populist prog melodies he created in the 1970s and
1980s into the new millennium.
1977, Oxygene hinted at the crossover potential of French music. Now
that Daft Punk and Air blast out of the radio, somehow Jarre, arguably
the originator, sounds rather old-fashioned. He is like Rick Wakeman,
that master of prog, but without the anecdote-spinning ability; or Mike
Oldfield without the pastoral elements. Standing behind his bank of
keyboards, dark hair blowing in the night breeze, Jarre looks as if he's
passed the audition for Star Trek: The Next Generation. His set zigzags
between various vintages but it never feels as though he has kept up
with developments. Loops and samples are conspicuous by their absence.
consummate entertainer, Jarre falls back on his bag of tricks: giant
creatures with enormous heads are wheeled in, a moment reminiscent of
the Residents; a bubble machine fights a losing battle against the wind.
Then comes Jarre's party piece. His laser harp reaches into the heavens
while he plucks a melody with his hands behind thin green beams. He
looks like a prisoner of his own making, always attempting to top his
last outing but condemned to fall short, as if cursed by the gods. But
then suddenly, as huge rockets and robots dwarf him, the event takes
off, the music for once matching the visuals.
when Jarre reprises the specially composed Acropolis suite with choir
and orchestra, the show really comes together. Even if Jarre offers only
a pleasant sideshow, it's still testament to the capacity of mankind to
entertain and surprise itself. As the breeze dies down and the music
swells up, even the gods are smiling.