Jean-Michel Jarres first-ever Canadian show was the stuff of digital dreams

Laser harp in Toronto #electronicatour #canada #toronto A post shared by Jean-Michel Jarre (@jeanmicheljarre) on.


Laser harp in Toronto #electronicatour #canada #toronto

A post shared by Jean-Michel Jarre (@jeanmicheljarre) on

JEAN-MICHEL JARRE at the Sony Centre, Tuesday, May 9. Rating: NNNN

9. Oxygene 8 5:15 (enter Lasers….)

In the days before setlist.fm and Twitter, media outlets on tight deadlines covering concerts were regularly given handouts of the set list in advance for accuracy. Last night, one provided for electronic music pioneer Jean-Michel Jarre pointed out not just song titles, but precise song lengths and when the more visible instruments from keytar to iPad would be played. Also, when he would turn on the lasers.

A Jean-Michel Jarre concert is full-on son et lumiere. The legendary Frenchman holds several Guinness World Records for largest performances a 1997 gig in Moscow attracted 3.5 million making Sony Centre essentially an intimate club show. This kick-off to the North American leg of his Electronica world tour was his first-ever Canadian performance, making it a bucket list gig for local electronic music fans and a cultural event for the francophone community.

First came the cubes. The show opened with elaborate 3-D projections set to Heart Of Noise, parting to reveal Jarre on a riser surrounded by a bank of electronic pianos, synths and controllers. It wasnt so much a stage as a spaceship, Jarre at the bridge, flanked by two bandmates on live digital drums keeping a marching beat. It was dazzling.

Weve seen these geometric trips and tricks before, though. Amon Tobins ISAM tour. Kraftwerks 3-D show in this very room. What we havent seen is the musician step away from the machines to chit-chat and shake hands with crowd throughout the show. Or offer a spy cam point of view of his rig as he plays. He may be a wizard, but one who invites you behind the curtain.

Jarre is an icon of computer music. His breakthrough instrumental album, Oxygene, was as revolutionary in 1977 as Never Mind The Bollocks. His two latest records, Electronica 1: The Time Machine and Electronica 2: The Heart Of Noise, are collaborations with some of the biggest names in the genres history: Tangerine Dream, Vince Clark, Moby, Air, Laurie Anderson, Gary Numan, Pet Shop Boys, M83, Peaches, Jeff Mills.

But hes not exactly cool. You rarely hear Jarre spoken of in the same breath as Moroder, Carpenter. He might win Grammy Awards, but you won’t see him on the broadcast. But what should he care? Hes sold more than 80 million records. And his earnestness is fully embraced by fans, who joyfully clapped with hands over their heads along to most of the Sony Centre set and were on their feet and dancing, forgetting for two hours that they were in Toronto.

For a moment, things got dark. Exit, his collaboration with Edward Snowden, took a turn for the dystopian agitated techno punctuated with video of the exiled whistleblower hammering on about digital privacy rights. If you dont stand up for it, who will? The angry vibe continued on a gritty version of 1978s Equinoxe 7, and then Jarre raged on guitar for a remix of Heart Of Noises Conquistador that would fit right in on a NIN record.

But the heavy mood was short-lived. Soon it was back to the intergalactic party, where prog complexity met smooth melody with a thrilling joie de vivre that is quintessentially French. After completely nerding out with his signature laser harp on The Time Machine and pulling out what passes for a hit in ambient instrumental music, Oygene 4, he closed with Stardust, his banger with Armin van Buuren.

For the rapturous crowd, Jean-Michel Jarres first Canadian show was the stuff of digital dreams.

music@nowtoronto.com | @liisaladouceur

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