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Concert Review: Mission of Burma

Concert Review: Mission of Burma

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 When they’re not singing about piss and slaves
and stupid games, Roger Miller, Clint Conley and Peter Prescott grin at their
crowd of believers and make silly small talk. “The theme is not complex,” Conley deadpanned at one point early
in their set at the Doug Fir Lounge in Portland, Oregon. He could be kidding.

Even before the show started, a disarming
sense of informality pervaded the place- while the opening band, Welcome,
strangled their way through some memorable songs and a few Kraut-worthy
rhythms, Roger Miller sat a few seats down from me and sipped a beer. Clint
Conley wandered through the growing crowd mostly unmolested, and Peter Prescott
frankly could have blended in with the rest of paunchy hipsters, tattooed boys
and girls and even the occasional leftover hippie hanging around.

That said, they don’t make it easy on their
fans all the time. This West Coast-only tour, Mission
of Burma is alternating Vs. and their legendary EP, Signals, Calls
and Marches, but this show started with a half-dozen frantic obscurities
and a few Vs. tracks. Fortunately, even on the less well-known numbers,
the band is incredibly focused and tight- by now, they’re practically the
definition of a power trio (with apologies to Bob Weston, tucked away on sound
loops). Even when Miller veered off into his trademark keening solos, there was
no noodling or guitar wank, just economy and violence.

When the opening staccato of “Academy Fight
Song” burst out, the crowd, already packed around the speakers, noticeably
jolted forward and by the last call of “I’m not judging you/I’m judging me…,” practically the entire room was
singing along. After Miller’s brief introduction of “Executions,” (he stepped up
to the mic, simply said “Executions” and we were off), we really got to the
meat of the show. A blistering version of “That’s When I Reach for My Revolver”
was followed in swift succession by “Outlaw,” “Fame and Fortune” and one of the
highlights of the evening, “This Is Not a Photograph.” On the last, Miller tore sounds out of his strings as though he had invented the
concept of noise. He and Conley hit every song with flawless timing, the
monolithic density of those bass lines matching the abrasion of the guitars
every time- even the stuttering halt of “Photograph” was (dare I say it?)
picture perfect.

After the last epic chords of “Red” had
fallen away, the trio started into the instrumental “All Cowboy World Romance.” By the end of the number, Conley was
soaked, Miller’s hair was askew and the crowd was shouting for more. The band
briefly disappeared backstage, and a refreshingly short moment later,
reappeared with beers in hand to slam into “1001 Pleasant Dreams”
from 2006’s The Obliterati with as
much force as band twice their size and half their age.

More than anything, a sense of camaraderie
pervaded the Doug Fir. Despite Miller’s brutish muscularity and Conley’s
strained expressions, they seemed as happy to play for us and we were to hear
them. When Conley shouted his thanks to the crowd, I believed him, and not just
because I had seen him earlier plugging in his own bass and helping to set up
the stage.

And not just because when Miller muttered, “This sucks” after a botched intro to
“Red.” He was laughing right along with his fans.

(Photo courtesy of bradleysalmanac.com)

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