Not to belittle punk's largely successful efforts to dismantle prog rock's pretensions, but there are a few things about the prog era that seem rather lovable now--most of all its tolerance, if not outright encouragement, of serious eccentricity. And no prog band was more seriously eccentric than the French band Magma. An underground legend in the States for decades, multi-instrumentalist Christian Vander's unwieldy ensemble (composed during its heyday of a rotating cast of European rock and jazz players, with Vander and his wife, Stella, the only constants) is probably best known for its early-70s cycle of mind-bogglingly overwrought concept albums, which revolved around space travel between a degenerate, miserable near-future Earth and a paradisial planet called Kobaia and the earthlings' inability to accept the Kobaians' message of peace and spiritual enlightenment. What made Magma seem especially dedicated was that they wrote and sang all the songs of this period in the Kobaian tongue, which suspiciously resembles a sort of Teutonic-Scandinavian Esperanto (though the liner notes to the original vinyl of their 1973 high-water mark Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh thoughtfully provided English translations). But the music itself was amazing, and sounds even more so now than it did then--a lush, grandiose, and often deeply unsettling Euro-art-rock hodgepodge, punctuated by free-jazz squonking and blasts of bronto rock, that in its massive theatricality sounds sometimes like Wagner with a head injury and sometimes like Kurt Weill with a head full of acid. After Magma's final studio album, 1984's Merci--a god-awful attempt to "update" their sound after a six-year hiatus--Vander tried to distance himself from this pretty unshakeable history. He formed a fusion outfit called Offering and the Coltrane-inspired Christian Vander Trio and even recorded an elaborate children's album, A tous les enfants (1994), that was surprisingly well received by Magma fans. So maybe it's millennium fever, maybe the Vanders know something we don't, maybe the Kobaians are on their way--but Magma's back, with a classic lineup, on their belated first North American tour. It might be awe inspiring, it might be horrific, it might well be both at once--but I can pretty much promise it will be unlike anything else you'll hear this decade. Friday, 9 PM, Martyrs', 3855 N. Lincoln; 773-404-9494. MONICA KENDRICK

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