Mission Of Burma in Opium Rooms, Dublin, on April 18th 2016
Funnily enough, it is Mission Of Burma’s most invisible member who initially makes his presence most overtly felt as the music of The Fall subsides and an undulating chopper blade of noise blares over the PA. The quartet disbanded in 1983 after just one EP and one album – ‘Signals, Calls, and Marches’ and ‘Vs.’ – due to guitarist Roger Miller’s chronic tinnitus. Drummer Peter Prescott drafted in his Volcano Suns bandmate and Shellac bassist Bob Weston almost twenty years later to take up the mantle passed on by their previous tape manipulator and sound engineer Martin Swope, the man who added that final pulsating and idiosyncratic layer to the band’s intelligent post punk sound.
Miller’s hearing woes are clearly still a concern, with protective screens erected around the section of Prescott’s kit to his rear and his Marshall amp pushed right to the edge of the stage so the crowd get the pleasure of all of the output instead of the man himself. “I got all the dancing room” Clint Conley later jokes from behind a scored and well-worn bass guitar – not that Miller lets the restrictive safe zone curtail his guitar wrangling or head throwing.
The three men onstage share vocal duties throughout – each as distinctive as the last – from Conley’s initial Dirt, through crackling takes on 7’s and 1001 Pleasant Dreams and a cranked-up That’s How I Escaped My Certain Fate. “It usually takes us about twelve songs to warm up, then we’re really good” Miller jokes, before Prescott’s more threatening mid-song intonation of “You’re here, we’re here, something has to happen… what’s the fucking point otherwise?” The final part of the sentiment repeats, decelerates, and fades off into the ether courtesy of Weston’s bastardised loop, a garbled echo subsumed by the guitar riff that plays relentlessly over it.
Weston’s live manipulations grind and weave through the set, his physical absence onstage compensated for by his mechanical and digital trickery, and his colleagues exit the stage to the scrapes and contortions of the glitchy loops that sign off This Is Not A Photograph. “We’re taking notes here. You’re never gonna see them” says Miller as he, Conley and Prescott convene at the drumkit to decide on the encore, both doubled over as The Ballad Of Johnny Burma gives way to Mica and Conley duels with his own vocal relaying back to him via Weston.
Both the Swope and subsequent Weston eras are well accounted for in Opium rooms tonight; loud, melodic and raw, Mission Of Burma are living proof that a two decade sabbatical dulls neither edge nor invention.