March 28th, 2016
I am a middle-aged man. I am thirty-eight years of age.
This is not about approaching middle age or confronting one’s mortality. This is about me trying to build up the reserves to occasionally have a moment like I did when I was in my early 20’s.
Did you ever get in a car with friends and drive hours to a distant city to see a favorite band you loved but wouldn’t appear anywhere near you? I did that a lot in my youth. Now, not so much.
It’s harder to get away. It’s harder to get a group of friends to get away together for a day or two. Let’s get in the car, go to town, see a concert and drive immediately back. No stopping for a hotel room. Pull an all-nighter, get collective white line fever. Get home and sleep it off the entire next day. Wonderful, right?
You can do that all you want when you’re 21, 22, 23, but at 37 it takes a lot of effort to get away. March 26th was my 38th birthday, so I celebrated with a trip to Chicago to see the French progressive group Magma.
I have done this before. On my 30th birthday, I went to Chicago to see the Boredoms, a Japanese noise rock group. That band had three percussionists, one vocalist and somebody playing a seven-neck guitar that was stood up on the end like a christmas tree. Maybe the strangest show I’ve ever seen. It was also a great way to ring in my thirties.
This Magma concert, this was the second strangest show I’ve ever seen. Second only to the Boredoms. And unlike the Boredoms where I traveled up in an car with friends, I went to Magma by myself. . . on Greyhound.
I took a Greyhound bus from Louisville to Chicago (nine hours), then took a Megabus back to Louisville (seven hours) immediately after the concert. I don’t recommend it to anyone. I was awake for twenty-seven hours before I got back to my home in Fordsville.
For those sixteen cumulative hours I rode on the bus, I was cramped and my legs were sore. My body played a game, seeing which body part could hurt the most at any given point. My knees, my ankles, my ass were all prime contenders.
I can’t do that again. Maybe I can do the car trip all-nighter but I can’t do the bus thing. No way on Earth. There was a point on the way back I thought that if nobody had ever committed suicide on Megabus, I might be the first.
MAGMA: JUST WHAT EXACTLY WAS THAT?
Okay, where were we? In Chicago, at Reggie’s Rock Club on South State Street, watching the second strangest show we’ve ever seen in thirty-eight years of life.
Magma is a French group formed in the late ’60s by drummer Christian Vander, and beyond that you should go read the band’s Wikipedia because it’s far too complicated to discuss here. Key words include: “John Coltrane”, “space opera”, “quasi-operatic”, “tribalistic”. I don’t know if that helps. I hope it does.
If I have to play the role of David Fricke, I’d tell you to check out Magma’s 1973 album “Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh”. If I knew how to add umlauts I would because that title has so many umlauts, Motley Crue would bow down.
They played four songs Saturday night. Four. The first two were thirty-five minutes EACH. They didn’t warm up with a short one and then go into the longer pieces. They went straight into the hard stuff. Their drummer is sixty-eight years old and played two thirty-five minute songs in a row.
To be fair, he stopped in the middle of the second song to take a scat vocal solo. For ten minutes, he scatted, he pretended the mike was a clarinet, he squealed and screeched like a maniac. And then he started drumming again. He didn’t exactly make it easy on himself.
The only way he could have made it harder is if he had taken a nine-hour Greyhound bus trip right before the show.