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(Above: Mission of Burma play a rare show in Kansas City as part of the Middle of the Map Festival on April 6, 2012.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Mission of Burma’s invitation to this year’s Middle of the Map festival mirrors last year’s inaugural invite to Daniel Johnston. Both artists exist miles away from the mainstream, have dedicated cult followings and usually skip Kansas City on their infrequent tour itineraries.

The post-punk quartet held the last slot at the Record Bar on Friday night. Anticipation was so high the venue was one-in, one-out more than an hour before Burma was scheduled to go on. Halfway through the band’s 75-minute set, however, about half the room had cleared out.The two biggest contributing factors to this exodus were likely the late start time – the band didn’t go on until after midnight – and the emphasis on new material slated for release on the group’s fifth studio album this summer. Fans that stayed, however, were rewarded with not only a preview of what looks to be a strong continuation of a critically acclaimed catalog, but many of the early songs everyone came to hear.

Early number “Donna Sumeria” captured the essence of Burma. As drummer Peter Prescott lays down a deceptive disco beat, guitarist Roger Miller’s fingers fumble over the frets, creating a snakey melody. The lyrics invoke the Sumerian goddess of love and turn the dance goddess Donna Summer into an abstract plea for peace in the Middle East. Miller’s brief turn on the flugelhorn at the top seems like an abstract experiment, until soundman/manipulator Bob Weston reinterprets the horn back into the mix later in the song.

All of this may seem more fussy than anything the Ramones or Sex Pistols had in mind, but the core of Burma is still very much noisy, rebellious punk music. During their original incarnation from 1979 to 1983, the band managed a handful of singles, an EP and one full-length record. Since reuniting in 2002, they have nearly quadrupled that output. Although Friday’s set tipped heavy toward the new, all facets of the band were on strong display.

After previewing “Dust Devil,” the band’s newest single, they paired the 2006 track “Let Yourself Go” with their anthem “That’s When I Reach for My Revolver,” which had the crowd chanting along. Encores of “This is Not a Photograph” and “Academy Fight Song” kept the energy high.

The lead-up to Mission of Burma started six hours earlier at the Record Bar with Deadringers. Thee Water Moccasins and Life and Times did a great job setting the table for Burma, proving that the local music scene can stand neck-in-neck with that in any other town. Thee Water Moccasins recalled a more avant Yo La Tengo at times. The unabashedly poppy “No Control” provided the best moment from their 45-minute set. The Life and Times were propelled by the frantic drumming by Chris Metcalf. Both bands seemed to be as excited to be in the house with Mission of Burma as everyone in the audience.

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