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Concert Review | Mission of Burma still strong after 30 years

Set mixes new material with classic tracks

Published: Thursday, January 24, 2013

Updated: Thursday, January 24, 2013 08:01

Boston locals Mission of Burma performed a solid show along with opening band Reports at The Sinclair in Cambridge last Saturday. Though opening band Reports was a tad disappointing, Mission of Burma more than made up for the concert’s slow start.

This cult post−punk band has been around since 1979, and while the band members are likely in their 50s, they more than held their own that night. It was especially nice to see them perform so close to Boston, where their fan base is strong. During the performance the audience shouted out references to Burma’s past concerts and other Boston bands from the ‘80s. The audience age ranged from 18−50 years old, which is telling of Burma’s timeless and accessible post−punk sound.

Burma played classic songs from its 1981 EP, “Signals, Calls and Marches,” including “This Is Not a Photograph,” “Red” and “Academy Fight Song,” as well as over half of the tracks from their latest album “Unsound” (2012). Every song had the audience moving, whether it was jumping, dancing or bobbing along. They topped the night off with a double encore and an amazing cover of the Stooges’ “I Feel Alright”.

There is much to be said about a band that formed in the late 1970s, took a 20−year hiatus and then returned in the early 2000s with three of the four original members. Although Martin Swope is no longer with the band, his tape−manipulation skills were very much present, though they are now handled by Bob Weston. Mission of Burma has a tradition of recording random snippets during the live performance and playing them back in between songs. These “invisible band members” — Swope in the ‘80s and now Weston — are in charge of the sound engineering behind these tape manipulations, which play a large role in the Mission of Burma concert experience.

As for the three band members on stage, each has an extremely different personality and stage presence, which makes for an interesting and surprisingly cohesive dynamic. Lead singer and guitarist Roger Miller was composed and effortlessly talented. Bassist Clint Conley was casual and understated, and enjoyed the music as much as the audience did. Meanwhile, drummer Peter Prescott was wild, spontaneous and very much enjoyed shouting. Throughout the night, it was easy to forget their age.

The tight yet comfortable atmosphere of the Sinclair added to the experience; the venue transported both the band and the audience to the punk and post−punk scene of the 70s. Aside from the masterful musicianship, the night was full of guest appearances, including Roger Miller’s brother Ben on saxophone, Bob Weston on bass and DMZ lead singer Jeff Conolly. You might think that seven men past their prime on stage might be a snooze−fest, but their passion and appreciation for music surpassed any and all expectations. Mission of Burma, plus its special guests, had more raw energy and talent than many bands we see today. They formed a strong connection with the audience by engaging in playful banter throughout. It was particularly pleasing when drummer Prescott broke from his crazy stage presence and sincerely thanked the audience for showing up. An audience member yelled back, “Thank you for getting me through high school!”

Mission of Burma’s performance was necessary to make up for Reports’ rather lackluster opening at 9 p.m. For the most part, their act sounded like noise with a beat. Their combination of jangly guitars, overwhelming drums and weak lead vocals left the audience fairly static, although their second−to−last song consisted of 15 minutes worth of solid instrumental music. If anything, they prepared the audience for the headliner, which is what most openers should hope to do.

Ultimately, though, the pair of bands put on a good performance that reminded audiences of a sort of golden age in Boston music. In the past couple of years, Boston and its surrounding areas have been graced with live performances by garage rockers The Del Fuegos, post−punkers Gang of Four and new−wavers Lyres, all great bands from the 70’s and 80’s. All performances, Gang of Four’s in particular, were mind−blowing in their own way, allowing for many younger audience members to experience these bands live even 30 years after their formation. Mission of Burma was no exception.

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