Mission of Burma, The Gary, Black Congress Fitzgerald's September 13, 2012
In a day and age when so many of the great groups from yesteryear seem to be reuniting solely for a paycheck, it's refreshing to see a band treat its own reformation as a chance to make up for lost time.
After influencing more of the rock and roll that was to come in three years back than most bands could manage in 30, Boston's Mission of Burma called it quits in 1983 when their catastrophically and unapologetically loud performances gave guitarist Roger Miller a severe case of tinnitus. It was a sorry way to go for a group that clearly had more to say, but nobody ever said life was fair.
Somehow, though, the band didn't quite die. As if inhabiting a Monty Python movie, Miller got better. Even as the ringing in his ears died away, Mission of Burma's punchy post-punk sound continued to ring out in the music of spiritual successors such as Sonic Youth and R.E.M.
Nearly 20 years after the breakup, the band found itself with an opportunity for a second chance, seizing it with both hands and a smile. Now another 10 years and four albums later, MOB rolled into Fitzgerald's on Thursday ready to continue making good on the promise that slipped away back in '83.
They didn't come alone. Locals Black Congress battered the early birds with their signature brand of hypnotic post-hardcore. Chris Ryan's bass drum rocked back and forth as he stomped out a foundation for the group's punishing waves of guitar distortion, intercut with great sheets of white noise from the band's electronics. Their set was loud, it was heavy and it was a brief-but-tasty appetizer for the excruciating volume to come.
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The Gary, possibly Austin's most thunderous alternative-rock trio, was up next. Dave Norwood's thick, crunchy bass sounded great draped in guitarist Trey Pool's supple, shimmering guitar licks. The resulting tunes were heavy but pleasant, sounding something like Nirvana might've had Kurt Cobain lived long enough to mellow out a bit with age.
The Gary broke out some new tunes from its album due out next month, Remains. The crashing cymbals on "Valhalla" were teeth-rattling, but the country soul on display in Pool's picking during the quieter moments of set-closer "Call the Dogs" was somehow more devastating. Keep an eye out for that record in a few more weeks.
Once the Gary bid Houston adieu, the excitement level in the club began to build for Mission of Burma in a hurry. This was a band that many of the thirtysomethings in the crowd took for granted that they would never see in a live setting, and even the grizzled 'n' gray scene veterans who might've caught them back in the day were clearly pumped for a second helping of sonic pain.
When the band appeared at last and ripped into "Secrets," an ecstatic current of electricity seemed to overtake the crowd. The sheer power of MOB lit up faces left and right like a string of Christmas lights. Pretty women, vinyl collectors and weird old dudes all pressed forward toward the stage, as if the band were a roaring bonfire on a dark, snowy night.
Great as it is that Miller's hearing has improved over the years, tinnitus just might be the gift that keeps on giving. It was loud in there, especially on the left side of the room. There, Miller's guitar amp was set up at right at the front of the stage, probably to help protect his hearing. A couple of hardcore fans up front got an excruciating faceful of slick, distorted tone all night, and they looked as if they couldn't have been happier about it.
The three members of Mission of Burma onstage (sound engineer Bob Weston did his thing from the - wait for it -- soundboard) seemed to be enjoying themselves nearly as much as the crowd. A vitality that belied their age helped infuse each song with an immediacy that was difficult not to respond to.
The group's locomotive of a drummer, Peter Prescott, kept the music rolling at a pace that seemed ready to jump the rails at any second. Instead, the kinetic energy simply poured off the players and into the audience as they chugged through one gnarly, upbeat tune after another.
The band didn't say much between songs, and they didn't have to. After alluding to some travel woes, Prescott declared that "We've had a long day, but what can you say, but 'Fuck yeah?'" That was the succinct mission statement that carried the group through 'til the sing-along set-closer "Academy Fight Song" and again through a short encore that finished up with "That's When I Reach for My Revolver." MOB may have the edge of unreformed punks, but those two songs and plenty of others on Thursday proved the band has songwriting chops that poppier bands would kill for.
Of course, if anyone is actually foolish enough to make an attempt on their lives, good luck with that. If history is any indication, Mission of Burma never dies. They just go on extended hiatus.
Personal Bias: Didn't quite know what to expect going into this show, but Mission of Burma turned out to be far better performers than I'd imagined. Their crackling energy simply doesn't translate in YouTube videos.
The Crowd: White people ranging from their early 30s to late 50s. Not a silly haircut in sight.
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Overheard In the Crowd: A persistent ringing. I may need to see a specialist.
Random Notebook Dump: "That's When I Reach for My Revolver" has been stuck in my head for hours now.