Magma is a legendary band from France that has since 1969 attained a kind of global cult status. They are one of the most unique groups I’ve ever seen in concert. Magma released seven studio albums during the 1970’s followed by one or two each decade since. Founder and classically trained drummer Christian Vander is quoted as saying that his inspiration for this eclectic music was a ”vision of humanity’s spiritual and ecological future” and this vision surely drives his urgent compelling music. Magma extensively use the Choral format for vocals, mostly without words, but at times singing in their own invented language, Kobaïan, to tell tales of earthbound science fiction. While called a “progressive rock” band they can be classified as “zeuhl” or avant-garde “French fusion” – a blend that would appeal for instance to fans of Gong.
The band has not played here in San Francisco since 1999, and this tour stop at Slim’s club is one of eight dates booked in North America. Of this short tour, Vander said: “MAGMA is happy to return to the United States to play for Americans. We know you are passionate, respectful and curious about music. We find you to be generous and open. It will be a joy for us to see you this year.” Important phrasing that, as it takes an open mind to hear Magma, climb into their sonic universe, and come away enriched by the experience.
Magma played three long songs and an encore. They were, in order, Kohntarkosz, Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh, Slag Tanz, and Zombies. The players were in fine form, including Christian Vander, who sings and plays drums, James McGaw (guitar), Benoit Alziary (vibraphone), stellar musicians on bass and keys, and three vocalists up front (Herve Aknin, Stella Vender and Isabelle Feuillebois). The music was intricate, at times heavenly, at others frenetic, or dark and brooding, and always adventurous. It was easy to get lost in the long songs and I found it best to let them just take me on their confident journey. After the first epic piece wound to completion, Stella Vander noted it was originally released in 1973 and “still ahead of its time.” For this witness, complete agreement!