13 September 2010
Welcome to Just Another Magma Monday. Once a week, your obd’t narrator and occasional blogger will trawl the expanses of his Magma collection to discuss something of Zeuhl-ish importance. Whether it’s the studio albums, the best of the AKT archive releases, one of the sundry live DVDs, or a choice artifact from his ‘unofficial’ collection, one thing is for sure…for this writer, Magma iss de hundin!
This week, sit back and relax as we take a look at yr. Obd’t blogger’s second Magma concert, at NEARfest 2007, and listen to him whinge about missing both of this year’s US Magma concerts…
We’ll start off with the whinging…that way, there’s something positive and uplifting at the end for you to look forward to.
Magma is playing two shows in the US in the coming week and a half. The first is as part of this year’s Sonic Circuits week long festival in Washington DC. The show is at the French Consulate…specifically, La Maison Française. I was absolutely gobsmacked to find this out…realistically, I could drive to DC and make the show. And it’s at the Consulate…did I mention that?
Then I saw the date. 18 September. A Saturday. Which would be brilliant, right? It’s a weekend, and I don’t have to work the next day. The start align!
I have to work Saturdays.
And by the time I get out of work, get cleaned up, and get on the road to DC…there’s no way I could guarantee that I’d make it in time.
As if this were not bad enough, Magma announced a second date in the US to coincide with this DC date. This isn’t unusual, as I know they’ve done the same the last two times they came over to the US. As usual, this second date is scheduled for New York City. Now, I am not a fan of NYC, but for Magma, I’d make an exception.
The concert is scheduled for a Monday night.
And I have to work Mondays. Also Tuesdays.
And thus, yr. Obd’t blogger is not a very happy camper this week.
But, for those of you going…enjoy. Enjoy it twice as much, so I can enjoy it vicariously through you.
Now, having whinged your ears off (and potentially scaring off half my potential readership)…
2007 would mark my second opportunity to see Magma in concert. NEARfest 2007 was a strong festival, featuring Hawkwind, Pure Reason Revolution, Magenta, La Maschera di Cera, NeBeLNeST, Indukti, and IZZ, along with solo spotlights from Robert Rich (who did not play Somnium, much to my chagrin) and Bob Drake. While there was a lot to enjoy from all of these performers, Magma of course was my highlight. In the 4 years since the 2003 concert I’d gotten really into the band, going so far as to ‘infect’ a very good friend of mine, award winning micro-brewer Kevin Cosentino, whom I dragged up from North Carolina to partake in the goodness that is NEARfest and Magma. I had ulterior motives as well, I admit…he offered to brew up some tasty potables for all of us as well, so in my eyes it was a win win.
To make things even better, I had killer seats for the festival. 4 rows back in the orchestra section, meaning we’d be about 8 rows in total back from the stage. Considering that I was in the balcony at a twice as large theatre for Magma in 2003, I was pretty certain I’d have my head blown off by the intensity at such close range. And we’ll be honest here…I almost was.
In 2007 Magma’s second US concert was actually their first, as they played NYC the night before their NEARfest performance. As such, and through the wonders of technology, I…ahem…had the opportunity to hear what they were playing before they played NEARfest. One might think this a massive spoiler, but for me, it really didn’t matter…even though Magma doesn’t change up set lists across a tour (not usually at least), I’d be willing, if finances allowed and the band actually did it, to follow them on tour Grateful Dead style, just because the music is that intense.
How wrong I was this time.
At the Europa Club in NYC on 23 June 2007, Magma offered up the following:
One hell of a set list, methinks. Only about 86 minutes, but hell, I’d pay full price for that, and walk out with my jaw agape and hanging. I saw the set list for the show, thought carefully about sharing it with my friends who were going to the show, and decided against it. I wanted them to be surprised, even though I with knowing looks let on that I kind of knew that they’d be playing.
And when the band took the stage, 20 odd feet from me, I smiled, knowing that I’d be hearing the tolling notes that led in Ëmëhntëht-Rê. Then Antoine Paganotti strode to his mic, stood there motionless for a few moments, and chanted out ‘Hamtai!’ and the band kicked into Köhntarkösz.
Remember above when I mentioned my jaw being agape and hanging?
Well, it was.
But for totally different reasons.
The rendition of Köhntarkösz the band presented was tight, heavy, dark, amazing. They ripped into it with a passion that was palpable. Bussonnet’s bass notes pulsed from the PA, the choristers’ (the Paganottis, Stella Vander and Isabelle Feuillebois) voices soared. Emmanuel Borghi’s keyboards carried the melodies, James MacGaw’s guitar added flourishes here and there, and newest member Benoît Alziary’s contributions on vibraphone added a new an interesting musical voice to the mix. Finally, of course, there was Christian Vander, center stage, directing and driving everything form his drum stool. I know there are numerous progressive music ensembles that are steered by their drummer (Univers Zero, Forgas Band…Dream Theater), but none I think rely on their drummer as much as Magma does. Musicians come and go…Vander is a constant. His musical vision is Magma. And from the opening moments of Köhntarkösz, we were hearing a drummer who still seemed to have something to prove.
As Köhntarkösz started, I turned to my friend Kevin, who looked at me with a mix of expressions on his face. First was awe…’I can’t believe I’m seeing Magma play live!’ The second was, I think, motivated by the look on my face, one that said ‘This isn’t what I expected them to be playing,’ to which he responded facially ‘But I thought you knew what they would be playing?’ By this point I had pretty much tossed out my expectations for the show…I’d already been shocked once, and it was time to go with the flow.
A huge wave of applause, well earned of course, marked the end of the first piece, and as tolling chords and almost celestial voices came from the stage, I smiled, ready to experience my first listen to the ‘completed’ Ëmëhntëht-Rê. I’ll admit at this point in the piece’s evolution there were still some occasional rough patches…some of the transitions still weren’t perfectly smooth, and apparently there were still some brief sections of material yet to be finished. What we got, however, was a solid and thoroughly enjoyable rendition of this piece, which merged all the various disparate pieces recorded and released over the years into one cohesive whole. I know by this point I’d heard a couple renditions of E-R as the band had been working things out on it, but this night’s take on the composition was pretty impressive all the way around. Again, the conclusion was met with a thunderous and well-deserved ovation.
As the audience died down, I was curious what the band would be playing next. A familiar drum/bass line brought another smile to my face, voices chanting out a memorable horn line, as Magma kicked into the lead track from their 1970 debut album, ‘Kobaïa.’ The vocal sections were as fluid and graceful as ever, with fantastic bass playing and wonderfully light drumming from Vander. An extended instrumental section, drums, bass and heavily fuzzed, distorted organ, took things in a fusion direction that really blew me away. As Vander began assaulting his hit, I felt myself being lifted up with the music. It was, to use a word I tend to over use, but which is wholly appropriate for this, intense. And heavy. There were several moments during this performance, in fact, when the band stripped back to an instrumental group, and I swore we were basically listening to One Shot with a different drummer, and it was something I’d not come to associate with this incarnation of Magma.
By the conclusion of ‘Kobaïa’ I knew we were better than 90 minutes into the performance, and there’d not be much more to be played. Chiming vibes and Rhodes electric piano were a hint, and with Christian Vander taking the center mic, my hopes for some CV lead vocals were more than met as Magma eased into the meditative and beautiful ‘Lïhns.’ I’m trying to remember who took the drum stool with Vander out on vocals, and sadly I just can’t recall. I do know it was a lovely and tranquil way to close out the weekend’s festivities, gentle music to ease the audience out of concert mode. The line for signatures would be long, but I was patient, tho it gave me time to figure out just what I was going to ask to have signed, as I knew there’d be limitations.
You’ve seen the result in the photo accompanying the Mythes et Legendes III DVD review.
And as we drove away from Lehigh University, I was satisfied that the missed chance to meet the band at NEARfest 2003 was rectified.
- Part 1
- Part 2
- Part 3
Musicians at NEARfest 2007:
Christian Vander - Drums, Vocals
Philippe Bussonnet - Bass
James MacGaw - Guitar
Emmanuel Borghi - Keyboards
Benoit Alziary - Vibraphone
Stella Vander - Voice
Isabelle Feuillebois - Voice
Antoine Paganotti - Voice
Himiko Paganotti - Voice