Old guy with bib overalls singing opera in a made-up language, on a street corner = homeless.
Same guy with a virtuoso band, in a Japanese theater: $48,000 a night.
Magma is one of those bands.
For fourty damn earth-years, they’ve been playing the weirdest prog-rock/jazz/opera ever. Plus their whole 20-album career has been dedicated to telling one long, giant story. About aliens having a space-war. And they’ve been singing in some made-up space language the whole time. It’s kind of like those dudes at Star Trek conventions who sing with a ukulele in Klingon, except Magma all have like PhD.s in prog, and they made up their own universe instead of copying. Four decades, dedicated to telling some epic tale that no one on this planet can understand one word of : The sheer futility is magnificent! It’s kind of like Henry Darger if Henry Darger was into 10-minute drum solos instead of premature dick-girls.
At a time when everyone else in France was some kind of stupid hippy, or boring pedantic communist, Magma dressed in black military uniforms and was all about getting Death Star on everyone’s ass. The whole band was the brainchild of Christian Vander, the drummer. Basically every time he wants to record another chapter in his epic saga, he picks up the most talented dudes in Paris and shanghais them into his band. Then they quit and start their own Magma-esque band, of which there’s probably like 20 in France by now, plus lots of other Magma clones around the world. I guess it’s like Discharge that way, if Discharge were all mad about space-wars instead of earth-wars. And by ‘mad’, I mean ‘really excited at the prospect of’. And instead of d-beat, Magma’s style of music is called Zeuhl.
Anyway, I can’t say I really love Magma, but they have so many different styles, there’s something for everyone. For example, I can’t stand their opera stuff, but I love their long, slow-building, odd-metered, dark and hypnotic grooves. I first got into these guys because one of the many Zeuhl bands is RUINS – one of my favorite bands in Japan. I thought they were the craziest motherufckers to live, but then my friend hipped me to the fact that they were just copying Magma. DEEEEYAMNNNN.
The tickets were around $100 each! And the place was sold out for two nights. Amazing! Most people looked like salarimen, sitting in their chairs and waiting for the next tune. By some mad coincidence, the guy next to me used to be a drummer in a band. And when Magma got down, we were both air-drumming the fuck out of the , um, out of the air. Like everyone else was just kicking it all mellow but me and my new, be-suited Air Buddy were the Air Drummin’ Auxilliarry, and we fuckin’ banged away until our knees were sore. From different countries, races, and social classes, but united in our love of outer-space struggles of imperial dominance, as expressed by pounding the air in 14/6 time.
The band that played Tokyo was 7 people. A 3 person choir, piano, xylophone, drummer, bassist, and guitar.
M. Zander looked like a guy from the butcher shop: an odler stubbley dude, work shirt with ripped sleeves, and – incredibly – the same haircut as the Kappa, Japan’s most famous folk monster. If he would have done it just ‘Because I’m in Japan’, it would have been a nice if obscure prank, but it looks totally natural: bald on top with a Friar Tuck fringe all around. Kappa blood? Maybe that’s his other-worldly connection. Since he was in a heavy band, I thought he’d be all heavy but he had a mischevious smirk the whole time.
The bassist, on the other hand, was a dead fuckin’ ringer for Jack Black, which made me hope they’d launch into a cosmic version of EXPLOSIVO or FUCK HER GENTLY.
Anyway, at 100 bones for 2 hours of music, the nobody-else-on-stage, endless-piano-jazz-solo was like watching money coins fall through a giant hour-glass. It would have been cool if the pianist was all like, “OK, that was 2 minutes – almost $1.80 so far. Who wants another minute? Anyone? This next song is called ‘The jazz solo that cost you $10! And it goes a little something like this. . .”
But other than that it was fucking overwhelming. Epic songs that develop slowly, return to themes, then play variations on them. Background bits that turn into main riffs, and vice-versa. And I discovered I even liked the opera crap – PROVIDED it was sung ON TOP OF the funk.
In a final moment of brain-freezing surprise, the encore . . . was . .. a slow-jam. A space slow –jam. Holy fuck! Where do they get these ideas??? All “I’m like James T Kirk, I got a blue bitch on another planet” style. (props to anyone who got my Positive K reference)
After the show, my pal offered to introduce me to Magma, but I have to say I chickened out. I mean, what if they have ray-guns? I don’t know what the fuckin’ etiquette is on their home planet – I have enough trouble not offending people in the USA, let alone Japan. I don’t want to get vaporized over some faux pas. What if they sell me to the B’grondian Xlul-mines? That shit is no job for a grown man. Besides, what am I going to say to Magma? You can’t be all like, “So, rad! nice solo dude! You heard the new Jay-Z? Say, can you tell me who wins the space-war? Because me and my buddy have a bet. Is it the Grondiddlians or the Butt-pfluzers? Actually, don’t tell me yet, boss. Fact is, I got kind of drunk and I already put $3,000 on the Grondiddilians, so if you could kind of arrange the next album so they whip the Butt-pfluzers’ ass, then that would be rad. My kid could afford the operation. A lot of stuff could happen.” I mean, what the fuck can anyone say to fuckin’ Magma?
I just went home.
Above, Magma performing their big hit, "You Can’t Eff With My Quad Laser!"
above, All the main singers, during the slow-jam encore. SENSUALLLLLLLLLLL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Above: The baritone, playing the role of Lord Abzunkrunk, Admiral of the Nebulon Destroyer, singing the libretto from a song entitled "Astro-punks jump up to get zapped down" (on the forthcoming album, which was played in its entirety).
Sorry the photos are blurry; there were certain rules about photography that had to be worked around.