Mission of Burma / Major Stars
Warsaw; Brooklyn, NY

[07-14-06]

Furious
guitars and rabid percussion punctuating intense, epic vocals, and a crowd
full of die-hard radicals shouting back the lyrics to every song. A
top-secret, sweat-soaked, God-forsaken hole in the wall where the kids get
psyched up for the revolution and then go out and fucking do it. Since
I was 16 years old, this is the mental image I've carried with me of what a
Mission of Burma performance must be like.

As a former New England prep school inmate who spent the majority of senior
year screaming along to "Academy Fight Song" (I still regret not choosing "I'm
not judging you/I'm judging me/My academy" as my senior quote), I've held
Mission of Burma sacred for years. When I heard about the band's 2002 reunion,
I was dubious, but the new material didn't disappoint. With such high
expectations and nothing to mitigate against them, I was completely unprepared
for the total "so what?" that was their concert.

Maybe part of the blame should be laid on the openers, Major Stars, who were
certainly capable of killing the mood. There was already some tension going on
between the band and the audience, who apparently weren't too excited about
mumbled vocals and anonymous hard rock guitar with some screeching and a few
interminable instrumental solos thrown in here and there. There was a
noticeable lack of polite applause between songs. Before the final song of
their set, the lead singer asked whether we were "super-psyched" for Mission
of Burma. Met with the first hearty applause of the night, she quipped, "It's
good that you're super-psyched for something." I'm super-psyched to point out
that the only thing worse than a band that can't keep the audience's attention
is a band that blames the audience for its inability to keep their attention.

Before Mission of Burma took the stage, I made the mistake of assuming that
the rest of the super-psyched audience and I were on the same page, namely,
the page that said, "I am saving all my energy for MOB." When they started to
play, I realized that there was just no energy in the room at all — none from
the audience and none from the band. While the band's instrumentation was
tight and the new songs blended well with the twenty-five-year-old classics,
the show felt like a failure because they couldn't generate any excitement
onstage or in the crowd. The decision to play two sets only highlighted the
problem, as the songs in the first half of the second set blurred together
into a twenty-minute stretch of monotony, and no one in Mission of Burma was
engaging the audience at all. A band with that kind of incendiary passion and
intensity just doesn't work when the passion and intensity are taken out of
the equation. There was no furiousness, no intensity, no epic moments, and no
die-hard radicals. There wasn't even any dancing. People weren't going to
leave this show and set government buildings on fire; they were going to go
home, smoke a joint, sleep for 12 hours, and maybe blog about the experience
in the morning.

The most depressing moment of the night came when Mission of Burma actually
did decide to interact with the audience, prefacing one song with the words,
"Fuck Bush," and following it up with the thought, "You have to write pissed
off songs. That's all you can do, right?" Those statements crystallized what
had been wrong with the performance all along. "Fuck Bush." So what? For an
intensely political band who, 25 years ago, gave us the lyrics, "my father's
dead/But I don't care about it/It happens anyway/On the edge of Burma," the
only real content of that statement was the subtext that Mission of Burma has
lost its relevance.

This all adds up to what I can't get over when punk, underground, and
otherwise independent or politically-minded bands from twenty to thirty years
ago reunite. With few exceptions, the reunion is cynical, commercial, and
supported by companies diametrically opposed to the bands' original aims

Clear Channel
and

Ticketmaster
, anyone?). It seems obvious that every time a band that's all
about revolution and anti-capitalism reunites two and a half decades later to
put on a half-assed show sponsored by exploitative corporations, that band is
co-opting their own subculture and selling out the very kids they once
radicalized. Mission of Burma, savior of my boarding school days, is
unfortunately no exception.

Photo: Mark Belinsky