As a resident stranded on the right side of the Atlantic coast, I always got strong pangs of jealousy whenever All Tomorrow’s Parties would announce various ‘Don’t Look Back’ gigs. If you are not familiar) with this format, it involves a somewhat legendary band, playing in its entirety one of its legendary records. Previous concerts have included the likes of DINOSAUR JR. performing You’re Living All Over Me, JON SPENCER BLUES EXPLOSION cranking out Orange, SLINT taking on Spiderland, etc. You can certainly see the allure. MISSION OF BURMA decided to take on this strategy with a two day hosting at The Paradise, where they blasted through their two ‘official’ releases back in the day, in part to tie-in with the massively successful reissue campaign, and also I’m guessing to give the younger Boston rock scene a dose of what rock music was like before they were even zygotes.
I chose to attend the second day, when Vs., their only true full-length release during mark I of their career, was featured. Sure, I wouldn’t get the primal, fist-in-your-face onslaught of the early singles like “Academy Fight Song” or “That’s When I Reach For My Revolver,” but in honesty Vs is such a massive record, a fully-formed howl of rock which also happens to contain my favorite Burma song (“Trem Two”), and so the die was cast, the fate certain. As the crowd shuffled in to pack the house for night #2 (no REM members in attendance tonight, unlike the first night), a knowing nod to the scene history was made as the PA played songs from such bands as LYRES, LA PESTE and PROLETARIAT. Thematically, the opening band AKACOD fit nicely into that mold, as it ex-*MORPHINE* sax blower DANA COLLEY formed a trio along with MONIQUE ORTIZ and LARRY DERSCH. The mood was somewhat smoky, as the warm lower register sax tones curled around your ears, and Monique’s sharp attack on bass would prick them up at attention, relying on a very physical and visceral approach to the instrument. The fretless bass allowed her to bend the notes and come into the pocket that Dersch and Colley were forming, and she also played a simple two stringer with a slide, much like a primitive blue riff gone raunchy in the best way possible. Their cover of FLEETWOOD MAC’s “Hypnotized” was rather well chosen, but their own material was pretty decent too.
On to the main event, which begged the question of how does band sustain tension and surprise when everyone in the building knows what song is coming next? Well, they chose a different tactic than what THE MELVINS did when they ran through Houdini (*KING BUZZO* decided to randomize the track listing instead of playing it straight), and the element of surprise was kept intact by a short four song ‘pre-set’ with “Laugh The World Away” heralding the bonus tracks on the expanded edition of Vs.. After “Progress,” a dense “Forget,” and “OK, No Way,” the structured part of the program began; I kept thinking it would have been funny for Clint or Roger to have an LP sleeve taped down onto the stage floor instead of a hand-written set list. From the tremoloed, jittery “Secrets” (could there be a more rousing opening track to a record?) the Burma plan was laid clear – Clint powered the melody on his well-worn Fender while Roger dropped shrapnel bombs all over the place in his unique manner of playing, and Peter muscled the beats into controlled chaos. It’s one thing to sit back in your favorite recliner and blast out a great record at levels which threaten neighbor relations, but it can never match the intensity of the originators doing so right in front of you, with likewise dazed humans packed shoulder to shoulder with you, sporting similarly maniacal grins.
Everyone’s got their own favorites on the record, and my previously mentioned admiration for “Trem Two” was rewarded by a perfect reading of the song which provided the underpinning for a multitude of post-punk bands yet to form. The transition from “Mica” to “Weatherbox” was like a butt end to the solar plexus, hard-hitting and breath-taking, Conley’s bass rumbling like a pack of mastodons, while overhead Miller’s guitar was calling in out some strange archeopteryx language. The band’s wry humor was also present in spades – commenting on “Weatherbox” and the great weather outside, Peter remarked that Boston was a good place to be today – it happens once a year. When Roger’s guitar wasn’t working as per design and they cut a song short so that a replacement could be handed to him, Peter demanded a new drum set. Just as “Secrets” was a killer opener, “That’s How I Escaped My Certain Fate” is such a monster of a song, a full-on swell of emotion that only a dead man wouldn’t jump up and down, wanting to burst from the very skin which envelops you. Draining.
The encore had another surprise waiting for us, as RICHIE PARSONS from long-time Boston punk band UNNATURAL AXE came out and raged through “The Creeper,” complete with a voyeuristic/peeping tom pantomime using Prescott’s drum kit sound barrier as an impromptu prop for a window. Three songs from The Obliterati finished us off, the excellent “2wice,” “Spider’s Web” and the closer of “Let Yourself Go,” though no one wanted to let themselves out the door, into the pleasant late night weather of Boston.
As always, more photos can be seen at my site.