VIDEO: Mission of Burma, "Academy Fight Song" (Live at Great Scott)
The adage “All things come to those who wait” tends not to find too many useful applications in rock and roll. For the most part, the business is about grabbing all you can as quickly as possible. In this regard — and plenty of others — Mission of Burma are exceptional.
After all, when the group broke up after playing a pair of now-legendary farewell shows at the Bradford Hotel in March of 1983, having released one single (“Academy Fight Song” b/w ”Max Ernst”), one EP (Signals, Calls and Marches), and one full-length (Vs.) on the local Ace of Hearts label, they were just months away from having drawn so few people to the Paradise that they were asked not to return. And yet Burma have managed to sustain an ongoing second life since reuniting in 2002 — one that’s included two new albums, 2004’s OnOffOn and 2006’s The Obliterati. It would be hard to find anyone more surprised than the guys in Mission of Burma themselves.
“It’s like what our manager, Mark Kates, always says: the band is going forward in spite of the band,” reflects guitarist Roger Miller. I guess I’m just used to the old way of seeing the world, and I assume that no one is going to care. Not that that ever stopped us. It’s just so weird that people are paying attention to us now.”
“One of the things that would have precluded our continuing to do this was if the only people coming out to see us were our age,” adds drummer Peter Prescott. “Not to disrespect any of those people, but when we went out to tour behind The Obliterati, there were so many kids coming to the shows — and that made all the difference. They weren’t relating to us like they owed us respect because of what we did 20 years ago. They were there because they were relating to what we’re doing now in a real visceral way.
Miller, Prescott, and bassist Clint Conley are in the midst of packing for a quick trip to Europe when I reach them to discuss the recent Matador reissues of “the definitive” Mission of Burma catalogue. In just a few hours they’ll be off to Barcelona, where they’ll hook up with Bob Weston, the soundman/tape manipulator who’s taken over Martin Swope’s role in the group, as well as Weston’s band Shellac, for seven dates in Spain and France. Then they’re headed back home to celebrate the reissues with two shows at (where else but) the Paradise. On June 12 they’ll focus on tracks from the expanded Signals EP; the next night’s show will include the entire Vs. album.
Each of the reissues — the third and last is a 14-song remaster of the live album The Horrible Truth About Burma — comes with an elaborate booklet full of band photos, scribbled set lists, and interviews with the members, Kates, and the discs’ original producer, Ace of Hearts owner Rick Harte. Each disc also comes with a bonus DVD: Signals has live footage shot in ’79 and ’80; Vs. and The Horrible Truth feature the two Bradford sets. What’s more, Signals now adds to the original six EP tracks the “Academy Fight Song”/“Max Ernst” single and two previously unreleased tunes, “Devotion” and “Execution,” to which the band added new vocals and guitar overdubs.
“We’ve pretty much emptied the vault,” says Prescott. There’s nothing else in there. And that’s good. This should really be done only once. And it’s nice to have everything available on Matador now. They put so much care and effort into them — really, a lot more than we did. It’s flattering.”
Miller concurs: “Honestly, it’s really more Rick Harte and Matador’s doing than ours. We just were like, ‘Wow, people really want to hear this stuff again. Well, in that case we should get involved a little bit.’ But it was completely Matador’s idea to do those expensive booklets. And Rick went and remastered them. When I first got mine — I picked up the vinyl because it’s bigger — my first impression was that Matador is just going to lose their shirts on this. But some people love to the point of sacrifice.”
As for the future, nobody in Burma’s quite sure what’s next. “We’re one of the least-planning bands on Earth,” admits Miller, “but we do have five or six new songs. Usually when the weight of new material has been enough that we have material for an album, we’ve made a new one. And everybody has new material. So it’s not inconceivable that we’d make a new record.”
MISSION OF BURMA | Paradise, 967 Comm Ave, Boston | June 12-13 | 617.562.8800 or www.thedise.com