Well it’s a bit too late after the event to make a full review worthwhile, and if you want an introduction to Magma’s music, mythology and history you will need to look elsewhere – but suffice it to say, Magma’s first UK concert in many years did not disappoint. The sound mix didn’t favour all instruments equally, but Christian Vander’s percussion came across loud and clear and the band previewed arrangements from the forthcoming album Ëmëhntëtt-Ré segued amongst other material with the expected perfectionism and virtuosity. Even for those not familiar with Magma’s work, which does take some time to assimilate, it must make sense in a live setting – especially when the playing is as effective as it was that evening.
Support act Chrome Hoof – a large ensemble adeptly playing complex music in ’70s-styled space-age garb – tried hard but it was difficult to tell what the sound and imagery were adding up to. The jerky theatrics and repulsive body-stockings of the band’s dancers didn’t clarify matters, and at times the whole production seemed overblown rather than epic. This may well be a band which will make more sense off record, without visual distraction.
Also on the bill was J.P. Massiera, an inventive French producer who recorded under various pseudonyms (the best known of which is probably Les Maledictus Sound, so yes – his oeuvre is fairly obscure, however influential). In practice, Chrome Hoof supplied the instrumentation and Massiera augmented it with howling and by occasionally triggering some sound effects. With the best will in the world, it has to be said that his live contribution was more of an “appearance” than a performance, but nevertheless his music was given a modern-day airing, regardless of the method devised.
The Barbican’s acoustics are suited to ensemble playing, and were sympathetic to the wide dynamic range used by the evening’s music. One result of such acoustics is that if people are whispering and chatting, the noise carries. You might think that this would be obvious, but alas some overgrown spoiled brats scattered amongst the upper circle were uncaring of the distraction they were causing, even when alerted to it by other members of the audience. I wonder what matters of supreme importance had to be debated during such a rare performance. Anyway, Vander has promised that Magma will return to the UK before too long, and it’s to be hoped that there will be plenty of other opportunities therefore to hear their music again, and watch them at work.