Mission of Burma at Cabaret

Ted of Jerk Appeal, while working his shift at the Barfly the last couple of weeks, had been bugging me to take him to the Mission of Burma show that was on as part of the Pop Montreal festival. While I’d heard of them back in the early 80s, I had never heard them until the weekend they played Montreal. I don’t know how I managed to miss them back in the day, but apparently it’s never too late. Ted had been raving about the historical importance of this band in the early American underground scene, not to mention how good the material is, so I booked our place at the show based on his recommendation. My pal AY, impressed with Ted’s passion for this band, also got a ticket and the three of us met at the Barfly on Sunday night and made our way south on St-Laurent to Le Cabaret just south of Sherbrooke St. – probably the best live venue in the city.

Ted was kind enough to make me a CD of 15 songs the day before so I wouldn’t be lost at the show, and I liked what I heard. I couldn’t help but think that for an American band, they sounded like a band who listened to a lot of earlier Brit art-punk-pop bands, though not in the least derviative.

We arrived at the venue just before their scheduled time (22:30), just in time to see the last couple of songs by a band called “Read Yellow”. The place was fairly quiet, the balcony apparently closed but we sat there anyway since there were a few people there already and a good balcony seat at the Cabaret is usually hard to come by. As far as we werie concerned, these were the best seats in the house. The place started to fill up in the gap between sets and by the time Mission of Burma came on the place was about 3/4 full.

The three members that makeup Mission of Burma quietly made there way to the stage to rousing applause and began what was for me one of the best sets I’ve seen from a band of that genre (what genre you ask? tough to say, but to keep it simple, heavy, guitar oriented punk/art/pop) since I had the pleasure of seeing Nomeansno on their 1985 “Montreal Tour”. Also like Nomeansno, I’ve never heard such a full sound from a three piece. The sound of three was more like the sound of six, doubling up on all the instruments.

If I knew all the songs I could give a round down, but the only songs I knew by name at the show were “Academy Fight Song” and “That’s When I Reach for My Revolver”, both played with passion and intensity as the crowd was lapping it up.

Musically, I’d say that Mission of Burma resonate with the great British art-punk-pop bands of the late 70s(Buzzcocks, Magazine, Wire, Gang of Four, Killing Joke), while presaging the great American underground bands of the 80s. A friend of mine who wasn’t underage when Mission of Burma came to Montreal 20 years ago (At the Checkers Club) said they were regarded as a highly avant-garde band back in 1982. I’d say 20 years avant-garde. You’d hardly know their material is 20 years old, it feels so fresh.

This was a night where everyone in attendance knew they were watching something special, and where the band knew they had the crowd in the palm of their hand. On this night, Mission of Burma could do no wrong, and they did no wrong.

Easily the best show I’ve seen this year.

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