Mission of Burma hit Irving Plaza in New York with a show, and an audience, that belied the band’s true age. Burma’s reunification a few years ago might have been overshadowed by that of fellow Bostonians, The Pixies, but Burma’s is arguably the better story. A longer hiatus (since 1983!), an ego-free break-up (caused by vocalist/guitarist Roger Miller’s tinnitus), a history of memorable live shows (immortalized in the live record, The Horrible Truth About Burma), no post-split brushes with MTV fame, added to the fact that they’re actually releasing new material. Now touring on their second post-reunion album, The Obliterati, Mission of Burma impressively managed to grab the enthusiasm of a whole new generation.
With only three men in view, all past forty, one might think Burma would have had a hard time filling a stage, but nothing could have been further from the truth. Miller and vocalist/bassist Clint Conley played dual frontmen, alternating the roles of singer and axe-man, and neither blocked out drummer Peter Prescott. Their art-punk sound never kept them from turning the knob up to twelve, but their secret weapon was the newest man at the mission, Bob Weston. Hidden off at the side, Weston recorded the guitars and looped them back in, live, adding another unique layer to their presence. Reportedly, he did it all not digitally, but by sticking to the early-eighties tape deck-tech of original loopist Martin Swope.
Neither relying too heavily on old favorites, nor on their two recent records, Mission of Burma managed to integrate the two quite successfully. The audience was definitely more fired up by classics such as “This Is Not a Photograph”, “Academy Fight Song”, and the still most popular, “That’s When I Reached For My Revolver”; having only been able to release one studio album in their early years, Burma doesn’t have to skip many of their top “oldies.” And this isn’t to say they didn’t rock the house with some twenty-first century tracks, like “Careening With Conviction” and “Nancy Reagan’s Head”.
It was great to see today’s often hipper-than-hip indie scenesters display real passion for such a venerable, but hardly new, band. The only real indication of the old hands’ age was a mid-show intermission, but that is something bands young and old should think about trying (and Burma still didn’t omit an encore). The Horrible Truth About Burma’s title was supposedly an in-joke about how their shows were either very good, or not good at all; by the time they closed Irving Plaza (QRO venue review) down with The Horrible Truth’s “Peking Spring”, it was clear which kind of performance they had just delivered.