Adrian Cooper has been unwell

Old reviews that are no longer available online, or from sites that no longer exist. The pen is dead, long live the camera.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Mission of Burma, the Playwrights
the Institute of Contemporary Art, London

There are few things as disappointing or soul-destroying as watching your luminaries embarrass themselves in front of your eyes. And few things are as likely to initiate a publicly humiliating fall from grace as a seminal band reforming as a way of dealing with their collective mid-life crisis.

The Velvet Underground were a bitter and petulant abomination of their past self, Arthur Lee has only managed to get away with it by drafting in a new band to pose as Love, and we’re all waiting with baited breath to see what happens with the Pixies. So when Mission of Burma got back together to play All Tomorrows Parties a couple of years ago, you may have feared that it was all set to go horribly wrong.

But before we talk about the old, let’s look at the new. While the Playwrights may not yet have broken into the public consciousness, with a Careless Talk Costs Lives tour behind them and high profile support slots like this, they’re making a damn good go of it. Where last years’ ‘Good Beneath The Radar’ was loaded with a post-folk air and chiming guitars, they’ve gone and got hard on our ass. The new songs punching out into the crowd as singer Aaron Dewey snarls his way through ‘Guy Debord Is Really Dead’ and guitarist Ben Shillabeer jerks around the stage, battering tunes out of his long-suffering instrument.

Having to follow such an adept performance, it seems even less likely that Mission of Burma will be able to pull this off. But age doesn’t seem to have taken its toll on them, and while Roger Miller spends the first of tonight’s two sets looking uncomfortable on stage, this is about as close to a triumphant comeback as you can get with the ICA’s dodgy PA system.

The PA not only muddies the sound disgracefully, it highlights how much more interesting, and tuneful, Clint Conley’s songs are than Miller’s, and also how much better a voice he has. While the likes of Miller’s fast and rasping ‘Fun World’ start to blur into an almost unidentifiable mess through the distorted PA, Conley’s ‘Academy Fight Song’ and ‘That’s How I Escape My Certain Fate’ still sound great.

When ‘That’s When I Reach For My Revolver’ breaks through the fuzz and hiss of the overloaded system it still sounds as fresh and vital as it must have on it’s release 21 years ago. Mission of Burma have proved that it is possible for a bunch of middle-aged men to return without making tits of themselves. Let’s just hope that the Pixies have been paying close attention.

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