Sure of Everything They Do
The last time Mission of Burma played New York was their final show, in 1983, and by all accounts a miserable experience. At the time, they were a cult item, barely known outside of Boston; since then, they’ve become American indie-rock legends. Last Saturday and Sunday at Irving Plaza, the reunited Burma got their props from seemingly every college radio DJ ever. I’ve never seen so many 35-year-olds with their fists in the air as when bassist Clint Conley yelled the not-not-not chorus of “Academy Fight Song.”
Burma’s aged splendidly, in part because they weren’t too invested in being young—their songs were always dense and brittle, their performances complicated by Martin Swope’s live tape manipulations. (Swope sat out the reunion, so Shellac’s Bob Weston handled the tapework.) Roger Miller still wears protective headphones for the tinnitus that forced their retirement, and still plays like he’s hiding three extra guitars somewhere.
Saturday night started unsteadily—Peter Prescott, his drums sequestered behind Plexiglas, kept dragging the beat. But then a flurry of screeching harmonics signaled “Fun World,” and they hit gear: Conley and Miller trading off figure and ground, Prescott howling wordlessly for emphasis, Miller’s fearsome jazz chords and ravishing solos rising out of the wall of distortion, their taped voices and noises collapsing backwards into the mix. The three new songs didn’t suck, and they encored with a radiant “All World Cowboy Romance” (with Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore sitting in) and a nearly free-form attack on Pere Ubu’s “Heart of Darkness.”
Sunday night, “All World” featured Richard Baluyut of openers Versus (named after Burma’s first album), Ira Kaplan of Yo La Tengo (whose early lineup included Conley), and Moby (who’s covered their “That’s When I Reach for My Revolver”). “We haven’t practiced this one in 19 years,” Miller announced before the last encore, and launched into the Stooges’ “1970.” He sang it as “2002,” since they’d suspended time anyway. —Douglas Wolk
The Way He Is
“My bum is on your lips! My bum is on your lips!” Feel free to rock those lines on your drive-time mic: Last week the FCC reversed a $7000 fine it had imposed on Colorado station KKMG for violating “contemporary community standards” by playing the radio edit of Eminem’s scatological megahit “The Real Slim Shady” (The Sound of the City, June 19, 2001). The agency determined that the cut’s naughty bits are “oblique” and “not expressed in terms sufficiently explicit or graphic enough to be found patently offensive.” The order gives no explanation for the change of heart, but does correct a transcript of the lyrics appended to the original decision: Slim knows he’ll be in the nursing home “BLEEP with Jergens,” not “BLEEP or jerkin’ ” (the censored word is, of course, “jerkin’ “). Kathleen Kirby, the station’s lawyer, says she’s gratified but nonplussed. “It would have been nice if they’d offered some discussion of what factors go into ‘contemporary community standards,’ which they’ve never defined,” says Kirby, who last week also represented CNN and other broadcasters in their efforts to televise the trial of putative 20th hijacker Zacarias Moussaoui.
Maybe the fine was too hot for ambitious FCC chair Michael Powell (son of Colin), or maybe the Enforcement Bureau was convinced by Neil Strauss’s Boxing Day paean in the Times to The Marshall Mathers LP, from which “Slim” was the lead-off single. (The FCC did not return calls for comment; it posts decisions at www.fcc.gov.) But watchdogs need not fear W. & Co. have gone soft. On the same day, the FCC also fined Chicago’s WKQX $14,000 for chat about fisting and swallowing (those were different dates, Mom) on its Mancow Morning Madhouse show.
In other words, the Commission remains as inscrutable as ever. “When I read those two decisions, either I’m happy, or I remain concerned,” says John Crigler, attorney for KBOO in Portland, Oregon, which was fined $7000 two weeks before KKMG for airing Sarah Jones’s “Your Revolution” (“will not happen between these thighs”), the highlight of her one-woman show Surface Transit (Voice, June 26, 2001). Crigler hasn’t heard if his client’s order will also be rescinded, but KKMG’s offense was no greater. As Eminem says, “Quit tryin’ to censor music. This is for your kids’ amusement.” (The kids!) “But don’t blame me when little Eric jumps off of the terrace. You should’ve been watching him. Apparently you ain’t parents.” Who should decide what your kids hear—your family or Prescott Bush’s? —Josh Goldfein