I went with some friends last night to the sold out Mission of Burma performance at the Bell House in Brooklyn, NY. It's always a thrill for me to see Mission of Burma. As a boy, they were one of the greatest bands I had ever heard (and the older recordings still hold up as great documents in American punk rock history), and later as a young improviser I got the chance to share a bill with guitarist Roger Miller, who was once again an inspiration by being so encouraging. When I went to their "reunion" show at Irving Plaza, I cried, and I wasn't the only one in the audience who did.
The show last night was terrific, and it was everything I have come to expect from the show - a lot of their "new" material is a few years old now, and they aren't a nostalgia act at all. The reunion a few years ago led to a genuine re-formation of the band, and they have released three full albums and an EP of new material since 2004. Great stuff, but the crowd still hoots and hollers the loudest at the big "hits" of their first career. And the audience is always half the show for me, since it reflects the two part career of the band. The crowd is split - about 60% over 35, doing our best to act like our backs and legs don't hurt from standing so long, and always yelling at one or two of the 40% under-25 faction, who try and fail to start pits with geezers that used to love moshing but just can't deal anymore.
About half the audience, in classic Aging Brooklyn Hipster fashion, took it easy in the front lounge of the club and missed what, to me, was the really exciting portion of the evening. Buke and Gass, named for their highly modified guitars (a Baritone UKElele and a Guitar bASS hybrid, and Gass rhymes with Bass and Face, by the way) have all the markings of a 21st Century Indie Rock band that old ex-punk kids can mock mercilessly. A boy-girl duo, like the White Stripes and everyone that started a band after the White Stripes got a hit, young, pretty and Williamsburg quirky, they had my expectations set low when they went on stage, even though I've enjoyed their first EP for the last year or so (and to add to the just-another-Brooklyn-hipster-band vibe, it's titled +/- in the new tradition of symbols instead of names). But they were fantastic, and nailed very technically demanding songs full of rhythmic trickery and difficult vocal lines with charm and drive. I'm looking forward to seeing how they develop as a band. The potential to fall into schtick is great, but so far they showed me a lot of creativity and serious songwriting despite (or because of) the limits of strange instrumentation.
Here's a performance they did for NPR's Tiny Desk Concert series:
And you get their full length LP, Riposte, here.