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After forming in 1979, the band released a scant handful of singles and one full-length, opening in Beantown for everyone from the Dead Kennedys to the Cure and blazing a trail across the United States. The quartet managed to score a local radio hit, "Academy Fight Song," and even generated a modicum of interest from major label scouts. But Mission of Burma's abrasive, dissonant sound proved too loud for mainstream tastes and too weird for a rapidly ossifying punk scene. By 1983, the group had trouble filling venues; worse yet, guitarist Roger Miller suffered from progressively debilitating tinnitus. After four short years the band called it quits.

While Mission of Burma's hiatus has been nearly five times as long as its existence, the band's reputation has become nothing short of legendary. The sound Burma pioneered proved prescient, distinguished by slash-and-burn guitars, high-necked bass melodies, and squalls of delay. Martin Swope's tape loops were even more forward-looking, an augmentation of the standard rock setup that prefigured the theremins and noisemakers of contemporary artists such as Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Sonic Youth. (For the reunion Swope declined to rejoin the band; instead, Shellac's Bob Weston and other guests will twiddle the knobs.)

Of course, it only takes one look at Ozzy's paunch to realize why aging rockers are a tad pathetic, but perhaps Mission of Burma can sidestep the stigma of the reunion band. Miller says even he was surprised to find that, "We sound as if, having folded in March 1983, it's suddenly April 1983." Bassist Clint Conley, slightly more self-deprecating, says of the tour's first shows, "The force, energy, was not diminished or compromised at all by our creaky limbs or our gray hair." Maybe dropping out young conserved the act's strength. Then again, if the applause had been building for nearly 20 years, you'd probably play your heart out too. -- Philip Sherburne


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