The Fleece, Bristol | December 3rd
It’s really not fair to ask someone to go on after Future of the Left. One of the finest live bands in the UK and recent recipients of the Welsh Music Prize, they’re a rare sight in Bristol, despite being based just across the bridge. So for them to play a supporting role seems almost unthinkable. Except for tonight. Because tonight’s headline act are Boston punk rock legends Mission of fucking Burma.
FotL pound immediately, ruthlessly into the thunderous roar of Arming Eritrea, which is appropriately disarming; its offbeat opening riff offers the faintest of moments to prepare before the onslaught begins. This is a band on peerless, career-best form. The likes of Small Bones, Small Bodies are greeted by elated, fist-pumping chantalongs. A Roland is yanked out for the blistering Failed Olympic Bid, its cruel, brutal distance flawlessly recreated, while the somewhat maligned Robocop 4 – Fuck Robocop is equally outstanding.
While leader Andy Falkous and guitarist Jimmy Watkins are on typically jocular between-song form, it’s their ability to actually make you laugh with a mumbled in-song punchline, or a belted out chorus which is truly startling. Very few bands manage to subtly incorporate such pearly humour into their material, especially one equally based around raw, physical power, and it’s an aspect of Falco’s songwriting which will live long in the memory.
We’re also treated to a fleeting, unforgettable reminder of that little band he used to be in: perfect Mclusky classics Without MSG I Am Nothing and Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues make a play for biggest reaction of the night, but in no way detract from what a very special, and very separate band we are witnessing.
The headliners arrive in somewhat muted style, as guitarist Roger Miller hands out earplugs for anyone within spitting distance of his bruising Marshall stack; an intimate gesture sparked by the well-publicised struggles with tinnitus which struck the band down in their prime. And it’s a promptly justified one, as peals of molten feedback seep from the speakers.
Mission of Burma are one of those acts whose influence has spread almost intangibly. A wealth of bands have been affected by them, be that directly or through the residual effect their material has had down the years. Onstage, the band simply glow with love for what they do, and a gratitude to be where they belong. Bassist Clint Conley, drumsman Peter Prescott and Miller (the latter two separated by a large perspex screen, presumably linked to the guitarist’s aforementioned problems) bounce off each other agelessly, but perhaps the most magical aspect of the band’s sound is formed away from the spotlight. Tonight Bob Weston of Shellac renown performs the tape/sound manipulation duties memorably provided by Martin Swope, which so cleanly separated MoB from their contemporaries. It adds swirling, unidentifiable textures to the already searing and invigorating sheets of guitars enveloping the venue.
The band draw amply from the depths of their catalogue, with a prominent focus on their latest record Unsound, a powerful, is somewhat patchy, effort. Energy levels are maintained, vocals stay sharp and the crowd remains devoted throughout. As the set nears its close, there is a palpable, collective sense that a certain couple of songs must be approaching, and the unmistakeable closing salvo of Academy Fight Song and That’s When I Reach For My Revolver is ecstatic, superb, and heralds a reputation justified before our eyes.
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Words: Geraint Davies