Music can be a religion, and I guess for most
of us at The Sponge, it is. Therefore, itís not surprising that,
among my friends, we occasionally suggest that a live appearance
by a revered artist is really a High Holy Day. The last such
High Holy Day we celebrated here at EvilSponge was the concert
by Wire last fall. But then, local venue the Echo Lounge announced
that Mission of Burma was coming, and the hue and cry began
anew. It seemed like everywhere I went, Iíd hear the same thing:
ďAre you going to Mission of Burma? Are you excited about Mission
of Burma?Ē Inevitably, Iíd answer yes to both queries, although
after a while I began to ask myself why? Why was this so important?
At the time, I couldnít really answer. I mean, I like Mission
of Burma well enough and Iím quite familiar with their music,
but it wasnít something I just had to see. In short,
it really wasnít my Holy Day.
Nevertheless, I was truly excited about this concert, and arrived
quite early in order to see everything, especially the opening
acts. Now, you might think from some of my reviews that
I donít really approve of openers, especially when the headliner
is a band I really want to see. However, I understand that the
openerís position is a thankless one Ė- playing to a bunch of
people who, in general, couldnít care less. I mean, you might
make one or two converts, but most people spend your performance
talking and socializing and trying to ignore the noise on the
stage. Therefore, despite occasional misgivings, I make it a
practice to get to shows early enough to see all bands. Furthermore,
on this evening, I didnít really worry about the openers: Iíve
seen Martyr and Pistol before (and liked them). And although
I hadnít seen Heros Severum, they were on my master list of
bands I wanted to catch.
Shortly after we arrived, Martyr & Pistol took the stage to
a somewhat sparse crowd. My first impression of them was that
they seemed more together than the
last time I saw them. In the past theyíve struck me as rather
dark and semi-orchestral, which may be a result of singer Kera
Schaleyís lead cello. However tonight their music seemed very
loud and dynamic. In other words, you wouldnít think a band
with a cello could rock, but it did. I was particularly impressed
by the songs they played when guitarist Brent Van Daley put
down his guitar and played the bass. This created dark atmospheric
noise that was almost reminiscent of early Joy Division.
After Martyr and Pistol left the stage, Heros Severum came
on, and I wasnít sure what to expect. I was a bit startled by
their first few songs, which seemed to be very Dismemberment
Plan-influenced, especially the keyboard parts and the drums.
However, they quickly moved into a style of music which can
best be described as straight up pop punk, such as what youíd
hear by other Athens/Atlanta bands like Sharks
and Minnows or Jet By Day.
The one thing Heros Severum has that those other bands do not
is a keyboardist. And in the case of Heros Severum, I thought
that the keyboardist really added to their music by rounding
out the instrumentation and bringing a fullness to their overall
sound. So, in general, I liked this band, especially because
I like their type of music, and Iíd like to see them again.
Then, at last, Mission of Burma came out to play. As I said
above, Iím a Mission of Burma fan, but perhaps not as rabid
about them as others I know. Iíve never seen them in concert,
although Iíve heard theyíre a great live band. In other words,
although I had some preconceived notions about the show, my
expectations werenít necessarily as high as those of many of
the people in The Echo Lounge.
The thing that struck me most about Mission of Burma during
their first 45 minute set was the level of energy the band brought
to the stage. You might think from that comment that the members
of the band were bouncing around the stage, however that was
not the case. Instead it seemed like both Roger Miller and Clint
Conley focused their entire beings around the music and their
instruments, which gave the performance force. Furthermore,
although the comments from the stage suggested that there were
sound issues with the monitors, it didnít appear that these
difficulties overtly effected the band or their performance.
Instead they took things as a matter of course, and acted like
professionals, which is in and of itself pleasing. Anyway, I
spent the majority of this set noticing these little details,
and not paying too much attention to their set list, although
I can tell you that they played This is Not a Photograph
and ended with Academy Fight Song (which are perhaps
my two favorites by them).
After a quick break, the band returned for their second set.
This time around, I have to confess that I more or less quit
looking at Mission of Burma as an object for review and instead
just focused on the music. Looking back, this second set continued
in much the same vein as the first one, with the band engrossing
the crowd and dragging them along just on the sheer drive of
their music. Things really seemed to peak when they began Thatís
When I Reach for My Revolver, which everyone in the crowd
knew and sang along with.
However, for me, the most impressive part of the set were
the multiple encores, during which Mission of Burma performed
covers by Brian Eno, The Dils, and finally Pere Ubu. Iíve always
thought that performing covers is a way for a band to not only
demonstrate musical depth and knowledge but also to show respect
to other bands they may like or find influential. Either way,
seeing such an obviously talented and well versed band play
such fairly obscure songs in a manner which made the music so
obviously their own was a great highlight, and increased my
own respect immeasurably.
So what to think, looking back on that night? I went into the
Mission of Burma show not understanding the High Holy Day mentality
around me. After seeing them live and witnessing the strength
of their performance, I think I get it. And Iíd definitely go
see them again.