Live Review: AIR Plays ‘Moon Safari’ @ Sydney Opera House

27 May 2024 | 2:12 pm | Shaun Colnan

“This transformative sonic sojourn combines ethereal synths, retro-futurist imagery and basslines that hold you in a skybound groove.”


AIR (Credit: Mikki Gomez)

Image 1 of 39

It’s odd to think it’s been over 25 years since a young French duo embarked on a trip through the pop cosmos and returned with their timeless classic. This transformative sonic sojourn combines ethereal synths, retro-futurist imagery and basslines that hold you in a skybound groove.

I’m talking, of course, about Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel’s (better known as AIR) opus Moon Safari. Here is an eclectic electronic universe with an immense staying power due to its alluring hooks and celestial soundscape. In celebration of the album’s 25th anniversary, AIR returned to Vivid LIVE to launch into their musical lift-off in its extraterrestrial entirety, subsuming the Sydney Opera House in their singular soundscape across three performances in the Concert Hall.

A drummer with a mop of hair and laissez faire swagger saunters to the kit at centre stage. He is dressed in all white and takes the rhythm as a massive backlit projection inaugurates us into this heavenly voyage. The boom and click of the drums sounds as a strip of light travels through the void. 

Then Godin and Dunckel appear from opposite wings, also dressed in all white. Cheers signal the opening of the album with La Femme d’Argent (The Silver Woman). This glorious initiation hooks you into this spacey world with the iconic bassline and that soaring synth meshing with the wandering melody. This track tours into the nooks and crannies of the universe as the backing screen emanates a pure white glow, silhouetting the band. Then the light pulsates as the bass kicks into a trancelike repetitive jam and then explodes with a triumphant drum fill.

A stampede of blue lights, buzzing in rows signal the movement into the album’s poppy high point: Sexy Boy. The mechanical grumble of the bass melds with the robotic vocals delivering the French verses and the choral titular hook which you can’t help but join in on. A flash of white paces the backing screen’s outline and pelts light outwards as the whir of guitar sounds in the afterglow of “Sexy boy…”

Then a tiled mosaic of moving light in all hues of pink dances across the screen as the voice of Beth Hirsch echoes with the line “All I need…” This signals a departure into a more tender and reflective song. All I Need starts with no percussion and features a harmonious cacophony of synth.

Don't miss a beat with our FREE daily newsletter

Then the twinkling of a strip of lights emulating the twinkling of stars. This before an explosion of sound and fury in Kelly Watch the Stars which starts with the anticipatory and marvellous singing of synth as it flutters and then erupts in the melange of drum and vibey melodious synth. This heralds an epic game of pong where the puck bounces about the backing screen in time with the music. Such a feast for the eyes and the ears.

Then the lights burn red and crimson, again silhouetting the band, as yet another pensive and primal melody captures you in a quiet rapture. This is Talisman, a song befitting its title due to the mystery and mercurial nature of its wanderings; a soundtrack to the gloaming with hints of blue notes stretched into eternity, carried forth with that suspenseful percussion. It conjures up a wanderer exploring some foreign world full of enigma and exotic wonder.

That glorious white box of light beams out through the Concert Hall, illuminating the audience and allowing friends in distant galleries to wave at each other, blow air kisses and dance across the space. Such a perfect moment for it as that robotic yet strangely nostalgic and poignant voice delivers the line: “Remember…” while faint keyboard notes trickle like soft rain. Line upon line of white light expands and contracts, projecting blissful radiance into the opulent space.

There was no voice of Beth Hirsch this time in You Make It Easy. Instead, Godin delivered the lines “Never been here, how about you? You smile at my answer…” and so on. Such a romantic rendezvous of happenstance lyricism and the haptic magic of the synth. Such is this illusory world of wonder and tenderness.

Next the blue and red lights converge before a vivid orange beam of backlight on the screen storms across our senses to welcome Ce Matin-Là (‘this morning’), a resplendent and sumptuous track in which Godin brought out a harmonica, meshing folk stylings with the stellar soundscape.

Then a quiet borealis with multicoloured stars moving towards the audience in the heady splendour of New Star in the Sky, a slow and tranquil groove, lullaby-like, lilting and lithe. And finally Le Voyage De Pénélope, a deep grooving and star-crossed perfect conclusion to this journey into the firmament.

Yet, they weren’t done there, coming back for two encores with highlights including tracks from their massive score for Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides and an absolute banger from their 2002 album, Everybody Hertz: Don’t Be Light, which saw the most adventurous and trippy of all of the visuals.