Posted in music | pictures on January 31, 2011

review & photos by Chris Gersbeck

Mission of Burma @ Maxwell's
Mission of Burma

I don't think I've missed more than a couple of New York City area Mission of Burma shows since I accidentally caught them at the Stillwell Stage at Siren Fest in '04. At that point in the band's history, they were still a somewhat recently reunited group, but clearly devoted to something more than just a few reunion performances. This was a group that was not so much reunited as they were picking up where they left off in 1983, anxious to write and record groundbreaking music yet again. Seven years and three (fantastic) full-length albums later, Mission of Burma have even further embedded their place in music history, a sort of indie music myth for our times.

So it goes without saying that these two shows, at Maxwell's on 1/28 and Bell House on 1/29 (both of which sold out) were met with excitement from the most devoted of Burma's fans. The band has become known for hand picking their opening acts, and in the case of these shows, they did an excellent job with both. New York City's Grandfather (not to be confused with Grandchildren) opened the Maxwell's show on Friday, a threesome with clear inspiration from Mission of Burma's unique timing and song structure. Their songs were dark, but meticulously written, with a heavy emphasis on rhythm. Grandfather's drummer, a highly energetic and precise musician, took on lead vocal duties as their guitarist and bassist flung themselves around on stage throughout their set. In hindsight, it made perfect sense when their guitarist told me before the show that Bob Weston and Steve Albini were behind their debut record. Check this band out (their next show is at Party Expo in Brooklyn 2/7/11).

Though I missed most of Buke & Gass's set at the Bell House on Saturday due to problems at the door, what I heard was great. A male-female duo from Brooklyn, both played seated, the percussion coming from a single kick drum stuffed with tambourines and a set of bells wrapped around the guitarist's ankle. Though highly melodic in contrast to Grandfather's set, you could tell why MoB tapped them to open, and they definitely had their share of fans in the crowd. Their next show is opening for Deerhoof at Europa, and then for Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson at the Stone.

Due to MoB's practice of choosing their setlists by committee just before hitting the stage meant getting two completely different sets between the two nights. The intimate (yet utterly explosive) Maxwell's performance initially consisted of later period Burma songs, opening with the Obliterati's "Donna Sumeria" and eventually hitting the Sound, the Speed, the Light's "1, 2, 3 Party!" and ONoffON's "the Setup". Smattered among the set was a slew of new material too, which is shaping to be yet another great set of songs from the band.

But their encore at Maxwell's is what made the crowd just completely lose themselves. As soon as Roger Miller began strumming the opening chords of "This Is Not A Photograph", the entire front of the stage became a group of pogo-ing lunatics. I don't think I've ever seen crowd surfing at a Burma show, and if you know the small space at Maxwell's you know there isn't much room to surf, but as soon as Clint Conley said, "That's How I Escaped My Certain Fate" a rather enthusiastic fan catapulted from the stage into the crowd and somehow remained elevated for much longer than gravity should have allowed. Following with B-side "Max Ernst" and closing with the anthemic "Academy Fight Song" left everyone wanting more; in fact most people refused to leave until the house lights came on.

Luckily another Burma performance was just around the corner. Their set at the Bell House on Saturday was filled with just as much energy as the night before, but relied more heavily on material from their 1981 EP Signals, Calls & Marches and their only proper full length before their breakup, Vs. Pete Prescott's shouts from behind the drumkit sounded just as aggressive as ever, while Clint Conley's overdriven bass made older songs like "Mica" and "Fame & Fortune" sound even more furious than their studio counterparts. As much as I believe "underrated" describes Mission of Burma on a number of levels, one of the greatest aspects of MoB that goes unnoticed may be Roger Miller's unique slide guitar technique, particularly when soloing on songs like "Spider's Web". Bob Weston on tape loops provided those iconic swirls of noise during and between songs, reminding you that the band's fourth member is just as important to the Burma sound as any of the members on stage. And how great is it that when they launched into their most well known song, "That's When I Reach For My Revolver" during the first encore, I hadn't even considered that it wasn't played in the set yet, or at all the night before. Overwhelming response demanded a second encore, which consisted of the opening track from Vs., "Secrets", and again ending with "Academy Fight Song". Something tells me that if Roger Miller hadn't jokingly said, "Thanks, please go home, now," the crowd would have stuck around for even more.

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For more Roger, check out Chris's recent interview and check out Alloy Orchestra in NYC on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. For more Bob, don't miss Shellac at ATP's I'll Be Your Mirror in Asbury Park. For more Mission of Burma, check out NYC Taper's recording of the Brooklyn show, and the rest of our pictures from both NYC-area shows with setlists, below...

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MAXWELL'S

Grandfather at Maxwells

Grandfather

Grandfather

Grandfather

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Grandfather

Mission of Burma at Maxwells

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THE BELL HOUSE

Buke and Gass

Buke and Gass

Buke and Gass

Buke and Gass at The Bell House

Buke and Gass

Buke and Gass

Buke and Gass

Buke and Gass

Mission of Burma at The Bell House

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Mission of Burma

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Setlist from Maxwell's 1/28/11
Donna Sumeria
Let Yourself Go
1, 2, 3 Party!
Epic B.
Part the Sea
Monkey Boy
Feed
He Is
Devotion
2wice
F. Yourself
7's
Good Cheer
The Setup
Nancy Reagan's Head

Encore:
This is Not a Photograph
That's How I Escapes My Certain Fate
Max Ernst
Academy Fight Song

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Setlist from the Bell House 1/29/11
Opener
7's
1001 Pleasant Dreams
2wice
Blunder
The Sound, The Speed, The Light
Trem Two
Mica
He Is
Part the Sea
Epic
Feed
1, 2, 3 Party!
Fame & Fortune
Spider's Web
That's How I Escaped My Certain Fate

Encore 1:
Red
That's When I Reach For My Revolver
Class War

Encore 2:
Secrets
Academy Fight Song

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Comments (26)

Nice review, Chris.
We're also going to have the Maxwell's recording up tonight.

Posted by nyctaper | January 31, 2011 2:05 PM

damn - they changed their set up proper - wish I could have made both!

Posted by Anonymous | January 31, 2011 2:24 PM

yes, the crowd surfer was in the tube! Thanks for playing Feed, and Forget Yourself. Like that introspective Zen too!

Posted by George in NJ | January 31, 2011 3:23 PM

I can't believe they actually played "He Is, She Is". My jaw hit the floor when Roger announced the song. Fucking amazing! The set-list was just incredible. I regret missing Maxwell's!

On a side note- I wonder how many NY fans caught Burma for the first time during Siren '04. I've also seen 'em countless times at this point; haven't ever let me down.

Posted by Anonymous | January 31, 2011 4:38 PM

nancy reagan's head was unbelievable

Posted by Anonymous | January 31, 2011 4:52 PM

Two great shows. The almost completely different sets made it well worth seeing both.

Posted by Anonymous | January 31, 2011 4:58 PM

mission of grandpa.

Posted by Anonymous | January 31, 2011 5:11 PM

Great weekend at Maxwell's.
Almost a reason to move to Hoboken.

Posted by Anonymous | January 31, 2011 5:24 PM

Thank god for Maxwell's - a great reason to avoid NYC/BK! Burma killed it on Friday!

Posted by Anonymous | January 31, 2011 6:24 PM

I agree... Maxwell's has become my favorite new joint. Just wish they'd turn the lights up a bit more :)

Posted by chris g | January 31, 2011 7:04 PM

er, new favorite joint rather.

Posted by Anonymous | January 31, 2011 7:06 PM

worst band

Posted by Anonymous | January 31, 2011 8:40 PM

Chris G, at least Maxwell's doesn't use nasty LED lighting like Bell House...or did you just feel like a b/w set for those :D

Posted by Anonymous | January 31, 2011 11:04 PM

you fucked up big time if you missed either one of these shows. maxwells on friday was just sick. the last 5 songs everybody up front just lost it.

Posted by Anonymous | January 31, 2011 11:24 PM

I tried commenting earlier but it didn't post, but yeah, the lighting at the Bell House was awful, had to convert everything to B&W!

Also - the recording of the Maxwell's set it up as well:

http://www.nyctaper.com/?p=5027

Posted by chris g | February 1, 2011 8:12 AM

damn - they changed their set up proper - wish I could have made both!

Posted by شات تعب قلبي | February 1, 2011 10:54 AM

Speaking as someone who hasn't heard them - is MOB like Wire or Magazine by any chance?

Posted by Anonymous | February 1, 2011 11:31 AM

closer to Wire than Magazine.


In fact, MoB's reunion was spurred by seeing Wire reform.

Posted by Anonymous | February 1, 2011 11:33 AM

Cool, thanks 11:33. Going to delve into the MOB catalog then.

Posted by Anonymous | February 1, 2011 12:32 PM

start with their EP Signals, Calls and Marches... then if you want to hear the best of their later period, just listen to the Obliterati start to finish... it's their best full length in my opinion. Not to say Vs. ONoffON and SSL aren't all great.

Of course, for the live Burma experience there's the Horrible Truth About Burma, which was a full length live album of new material released after they broke up as a way to get those new songs out. Sold material there.

Posted by Anonymous | February 1, 2011 1:42 PM

greatest fucking band on earth.

Posted by Anonymous | February 1, 2011 9:49 PM

I was lucky enough to see them a couple times around 82/83, then the first NY reunion show at Irving and the follow up there. Lost track since then, to my great regret, especially since the Bell House show completely blew my mind. I guess I should've made an effort to get to Maxwells.

Anyway, I disagree with 1:42 above, my favorite of the recent records is SSL. But, that's just a matter of taste. In general the MoB sound, style, presence - just the way they ARE - is unique, but also great. And the degree of greatness is only a matter of some songs being more successful than others (again, a matter of taste), and the particular sound and vibe of a given recording. Again, I prefer SSL. But the fact that I can even accept, let alone enjoy, let alone truly take to heart, their recent stuff is a testament to the truly timeless art. It's really only now that they feel beyond contemporary to me. Unlike Wire, it doesn't sound like the world has caught up (though I offer the caveat that I haven't heard the new Wire thing).
For those of you seeking to re/discover MoB I highly recommend going chronologically, as I was lucky enough to do the first time around (I heard "Academy" and "Max Ernst" on Hofstra radio when the 7" came out). And don't forget the Taang releases that cover early recordings and demos preceding Signals... and VS.
As to their immediate influences: they were clearly and admittedly in debt to the Brit bands that just preceded them (Wire, Magazine, Fall, Killing Joke). But, the list of artists they covered betray their American art/punk family tree (Stooges, Pere Ubu, Dils).
Ok, that's enough, I'm just thrilled to be thrilled again. And thrilled to see a few people here feel the same, and shared the experience of this past weekend.

Posted by noisejoke | February 1, 2011 11:11 PM

do they ever play 'the enthusiast' anymore? that song kills.

Posted by Anonymous | February 8, 2011 7:25 AM

Last time I saw them do the Enthusiast was as an encore to their Vs. show at Bowery Ballroom a couple years ago. I agree, that song rules. Pete's best song next to Learn How.

Posted by Anonymous | February 8, 2011 7:41 AM

Nailed a tween in my hotel room after the show!!!

Posted by Eric M. Van | February 11, 2011 9:45 AM

Dude...wtf?

Posted by Jack | February 14, 2011 8:51 PM

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