Mission of Burma
Imagine the poster, in big black, silk-screened letters: “The Monsters of Semi-Popular ‘80s Massachusetts Indie Bands—REFORMED! FOR ONE NIGHT ONLY!”
Mission of Burma, the Pixies, and Dinosaur Jr would make a hell of package tour. What’s bizarre about this scenario it’s no longer so fanciful. All three bands are on cross-country jaunts this summer playing their various brands of idiosyncratic post-punk. The only group missing is Galaxie 500, and though they might tell you differently, it’s only a matter of time, right? If Lou Barlow and J Mascis can bury the hatchet in the name of a reunion (and those enticing reunion dollars) all bets are off.
Of course, nothing lasts forever, or does it? At the Ogden Theater Mission of Burma’s drummer Peter Prescott announced that his band’s reunion was over. Not that Burma isn’t going to keep playing, he just didn’t see any point in calling it a “reunion” anymore.
“I mean, it’s been almost three years that we’ve been back together,” he said with a laugh. “We’ve played hundreds of shows, recorded a new album I don’t think it’s a reunion at this point.”
Prescott’s right. By now, the initial shock of Mission of Burma’s return has worn off. Most reformed bands are hit and run affairs—a quick tour to soak up the adulation of the faithful and then back to respective solo projects. But Mission of Burma remains an ongoing concern for Prescott, bassist Clint Conley, and guitarist Roger Miller.
And if their show at the Ogden was any indication, we should all be thankful that they’ve decided not to take the money and run. Though the members look their (middle) ages, the band is still a powerful live force, combining a riotous energy and spontaneity with a unique—but always highly melodic—approach to song. Mission of Burma stand apart from most rock bands because there’s no discernible frontman. The band is more a living, breathing organism unto itself. As a result, songs bend and twist to the point where you think they’re going to break into a million pieces and then snap suddenly back into shape. It makes for an exhilarating ride.
As Prescott mentioned, Burma has recorded a new album, last year’s ONoffON, and their set was sprinkled with the best cuts from that album. The most complimentary thing one can say is that these songs fit in perfectly with the rest of the band’s esteemed catalog. Twenty years seems to have had little effect on their creative chemistry.
And the chemistry isn’t just onstage; from behind the mixing desk, soundman Bob Weston (also the bassist for Shellac) manipulated fragments of vocals and guitar parts, firing them back to create a bizarrely entertaining maelstrom of sound. At the end of one song, it sounded as though the dwarf from “Twin Peaks” was contributing back up vocals from behind the curtain, a fact that was not lost on the band—they all broke into wide smiles.
It’s a tired cliché to say a band is, or was, ahead of its time. It might just be better to call the music Prescott, Miller, and Conley make timeless. Like the band, the music endures, which is a good thing, because the reunion is officially over.