Show Review: Jean-Michel Jarre at the Greek Theatre at UC Berkeley, 5/26/2017

by Jonathan Pirro on June 2, 2017

An evening of history and illumination, full of energy and exciting sounds

Jean-Michel Jarre's live setup

Jean-Michel Jarre’s live setup

By this point, I’ve waxed on and on and ON about electronic shows, so what’s in store for anyone attending one shouldn’t be too surprising: elaborate lights and projections, minimal equipment onstage, and a limited scope of what the performers can actually do (by virtue of sounds and lights responding to recorded cues). It’s therefore incredibly exciting to know that one of the forefathers of the genre — French composer Jean-Michel Jarre — is one of the most energetic performers in live electronica today. His stage persona pairs excellently with his dazzling visual effects, and most of the music is actually played live, rather than simply cranked out from a MIDI sequence or a pre-recorded track. It’s taken 40 years for Jarre to do his first U.S. tour, but by all accounts, he has been owning this lap like he’s been doing it for an eternity.

Jean-Michel Jarre in mid-jump

Jean-Michel Jarre in mid-jump

When doing a brand-new tour that covers four decades of material, there’s a massive catalogue to go through — a particularly difficult feat, given a 90-minute set time and a sound curfew (two factors which the staff of the Greek Theatre at UC Berkeley are particularly unforgiving about), and the latter is a definite bummer for oonce-oonce-filled nights. Neither, however, deterred the fans who arrived, nor the moods of the performers; Jarre and his touring accomplices filled the stone seats and walls with shimmering synths, danceable beats, and a glorious spectacle of dancing projections and sparkling LEDs. The setlist swung effortlessly between pulsing proto-electronic pieces of the 70s and modern EDM creations, and the mood jumped to excited heights when Jarre at last encouraged the audience to get up and dance with him.

Armed with a keytaur!

Armed with a keytaur!

The “with him” part is definitely key here; lest his age raise any eyebrows, Jarre is remarkably active behind his array of keyboards and synths, jumping and waving encouragement constantly from song to song. Though his face was partially hidden by shiny sunglasses for most of the show, it was easy to tell that he was overjoyed to finally share his work to such an exuberant audience. The spirit of his legacy was also very apparent within the crowd; electronic music guru Dave Smith, inventor of the Prophet 5 synthesizer, was in attendance, and Jarre gave him a verbal nod, taking the moment to describe the instrument as “the Stradivarius of the 22nd century”.

Beneath a hailstorm of laser lights

Beneath a hailstorm of laser lights

For many in the crowd, most of the mesmerizing visuals and pulsing notes played second fiddle to the truly stunning moment of the night: Jarre performing “The Time Machine” on his custom-built laser harp, one of the most stunning instruments to ever appear on a stage. Diehard fans screamed their excitement the moment the streaking green lights first pierced the sky, and for any newcomers in the audience, it was only moments before their confusion melted into amazement and wild cheering. The song seemed to finish within short minutes, but the performance was enthralling for every moment that transpired.

Jean-Michel Jarre playing the laser harp

Jean-Michel Jarre playing the laser harp

With the current electronic landscape overrun with just-push-play artists — whose entire performance would likely stagnate if forced to turn to keyboards, drums, or any other non-prerecorded instrumentation — it was incredibly refreshing to watch a master of the craft take the stage and completely own it. The age gamut of fans in the audience ran from young EDM kids to longtime fans of electronica’s very origins, and the joy was palpable in both those who remained seated and those who danced their hearts out to the latter half of the show. Jarre’s show demonstrates an excellent understanding of the current climates of both live performance and modern electronic music — so the greatest hope is that he doesn’t take 40 more years before his next US tour.


Additional photos from the show below. All photos © 2017 Jonathan Pirro.

Jonathan Pirro

Off-kilter multimedia enthusiast.

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