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the pathetic caverns - music by artist - Mission of Burma

eclectic reviews and opinions

Mission of Burma (with The Count Me Outs)

29 Apr 2005

Somerville Theatre (Somerville, Massachusetts)

The Count Me Outs' pedigree includes members of Boston scene-faves Deluxx and Fuzzy. They opened the evening with a furious — and loud — set of abrasive post-punk. Fast tempos, yowly vocals, unison riffing, and assertively atonal guitar leads are their stock in trade — overall, an excellent match for Mission of Burma. The mix was a bit murky, but the band's energy carried the day.

Mission of Burma brought a few unusual things to the stage. Roger Miller — whose tinnitus forced the end of the band's first phase — wore bulky ear protectors. A plastic barrier protected him from the full force of Peter Prescott's drums. (When the barrier came crashing down after a few songs, Prescott made Spinal Tap jokes about cocoons and Stonehenge replicas)

That's right, two sets. All the hits — and a generous helping of all the phases of Burma's career: past, present, and future. The performance of "Manic Incarnation" by the proto-Burma band Moving Parts (with Moving Parts drummer Boby Bear running to the front of the stage to show his appreciation) certainly set scenester tongues a-wagging. But even more excitement was generated by the performance of a half-dozen new songs. In fact, Mission of Burma trotted out most of their signature hits in the first set, and saved a brand-new song for the end of the encore. These days, it seems like new reunion tours are announced every week, but Mission of Burma deserve to be judged by a different standard. What's most remarkable about Burma's return to active duty is that they don't rest on their past accomplishments — last year's OnOffOn wasn't just a good reunion album, it was one of the year's best albums, period.

Likewise, the Somerville Theatre show wasn't just an outstanding reunion performance, it was a knockout show by any standard. It was a joy to watch Peter Prescott play the drums, which he did with a rare mix of power and subtlety, not to mention evident good humor. The set was punctuated by his exuberant yells, just the way you hear shouts of delight in the background on old jazz records. When he told the crowd the band would play two sets, I assumed he was making a joking reference to the Grateful Dead tradition — partly because he also told us to stick around for the intermission's live-sex act featuring Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

Clint Conley must have a Picture of Dorian Gray thing going on — the years between Burma's break-up and reformation hardly seem to have touched him. He played very physically, slashing his hand across the strings. He's perhaps the band's least impressive instrumentalist, but probably the strongest singer, and an extraordinary tunesmith — "Academy Fight Song," and "That's When I Reach for My Revolver" are hooky without sacrificing any of Burma's essential frenzy.

Roger Miller is an unusually versatile guitarist. The signature Burma sound is a volatile mix of crushing power chords, atmospheric harmonics, and fast chromatic runs, but he was also adept at finessing fluid 16th-note hammer-on/pull-offs and time-based effects like tremolo. Most of Burma's catalog wanders through fairly abrasive sonic territory, but "Einstein's Day" slowed the pace. With Conley playing chords on the bass, Miller had a chance to show his command of graceful and lyrical techniques in an extended solo. It was drop-dead gorgeous, almost worth the price of admission all by itself, and it completely smoked the recorded version of the song on Vs.

Bob Weston (who played with Prescott in the Volcano Suns and who's amassed a phenomenal list of recording credits, including artists such as Nirvana, Sebadoh, Shellac, and Superchunk) masterminded the band's sound from the mixing desk. He also joined the trio on stage, playing bass (with Conley switching to six-string) for the thunderous grand finale.

This review originally appeared at Avoid Peril.

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