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Magma - Concert Bobino 1981 CD (album) cover





3.44 | 52 ratings

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3 stars Who's My Love indeed?

Before I start, you should probably know that Magma is my favorite progressive rock band, so read this with that perspective in mind. The bottom line here is that it is an excellent live document featuring some less-than-excellent material. Yet, I probably listen to it as much as or more than any other of the various archival live releases by this band. One of the main reasons for this is the superb sound quality -- the band really pops out of the speakers, and the performance's dynamics and power come through beautifully on this 2 CD set. Another reason has to be the only complete rendition of the epic "Zess" (32 minutes) currently available. A stripped down vocal +piano version is available on the "Les Voix de Magma" release, but this is the only full band version out there. And lastly, you know what? I quite like Magma in its pop-soul mode, which is where Magma's concurrent new material was headed at the time of this release (i.e. the critically derided "Merci" album). These songs' straight 4/4 rhythms with little hint of Magma's trademark rhythmic workouts are pretty off-putting at first, but listen closely and you'll hear some hot horn accents and Vander throwing in a wicked fill here and there.

"Zain" opens the show in dramatic "overture" mode, a high energy Zeuhl rocker with spirited horn parts and group vocals, leading without pause into one of Magma's most beloved older pieces, "Hhai", which receives the rendition of a lifetime here - the definitive version of this song. The superb sound quality really brings out the tension and passion that are central to this song. Next up is "Urgon Gorgo", one of Magma's less compelling pieces. I thought it was just an excerpt from an improvised jam, until I started seeing it on other set lists as well. Kind of a bass feature, it has some really cool moments, but overall nothing to write home about. Disc one closes with a fine rendition of "Retrovision", another of Magma's epics, this one dating from the "Attakh" period, where American soul music was just starting to creep into their sound. This is a wonderful piece, full of rhythmic drive and hot syncopations, using repetition and gradual development of musical themes like any good Magma epic. (And am I the only one who sings "Meet George Jetson!" when the first melody comes in?)

Disc Two opens with "Who's My Love". Just look at that title. Hateful, isn't it? Well, turn that frown upside down, because this is a fun little piece. Some guy in the band other than Vander (Guy Khalifa maybe?) sings this one solo (with the female backing vox providing "answers" to his pleading lines, hitting a real bad bum note at one point in the beginning - ouch!), and he doesn't have a fantastic voice, but I find it charming enough. Nice harmonies on the horns, too. The pop-soul mode continues with "Otis", here extended to an endurance-testing length as Vander scat-sings to rile up the audience (the audience is fairly inaudible throughout this CD by the way, as I believe it's a soundboard recording). I usually skip this track, though I do like it when Vander hits his falsetto range (he can control his voice like few I've ever heard).

On to "Zess".... this epic differs greatly from other long-form pieces like "Kohntarkosz" and even "Retrovision", in that the rhythm section pretty much plays the same two-chord vamp throughout the whole piece. There is a long (close to 5 minutes), legato intro with synthesizer, horns, and choral vocals, singing one of Vander's most beautiful melodies. Then the vamp begins, and Vander delivers a LONNNGGG recitation in French that will most certainly lose most listeners. Then he sings the main melody of the piece (great melody btw), and then performs an elaborate falsetto vocal scat-sung solo over the vamp that just might make your jaw drop, and then WHAM! the first real musical riff of the piece erupts out of nowhere, a good 10+ minutes in. The impact of this after such a long intro is just... breathtaking. Talk about tension/release! This brash riff comes back every now and then throughout the piece, following another Vander vocal solo, a very quick and fluid guitar solo (sounds like a Holdsworth fan on the axe there), and the full choir joins in singing the main melody, as the piece continues to build, leaving me exhausted by the end. Classic use of Magma repetition and tension/release on this number.

The concert ends with "You", stylistically similar to "Retrovision" but leaning a bit more towards the "Merci" sound. The last 6 minutes of the track are hilarious. The song has ended, but Vander keeps talking again and again to the audience, possibly introducing the band, but I don't understand French so I'm not sure. He sounds more hyper and maniacal than usual, even hitting his trademark falsetto as he screams "MERCIIIII!!!" to the crowd. Love it.

Magma fans should pick this up, no doubt in my mind, whether or not you like Merci. It sounds fantastic, the performances are excellent, and it has a few of their finest moments. For the casual fan of Magma, or for the general prog rock fan, though, this is definitely non-essential Magma. Out of about an hour and 45 minutes of music, I'd say there's probably about 20 minutes I could easily do without. 3.5 stars.

HolyMoly | 3/5 |


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