Boston's Roger Miller made his last Washington appearance as a member of Mission of Burma at the 9:30 club last night wearing a pair of futuristic earmuffs, the sort of things you see on airport runway attendents. Miller suffers from "tintinnabulation," a chronic, painful ringing in his ears, which would be set off by the excessive volume levels Mission of Burma perform at without the protection of his earmuffs.
At times during the evening's performance one wished that similar arrangements had been made for the audience.
It was occasionally almost impossible to catch the subtleties that make the group's album such intriguing listening. Sparser numbers, such as "Tren Two," faired well enough, tremelo-laden guitar riffs undulating spookily over swooping bass arpeggios. Some of the louder numbers, though, verged on pure noise-crashing--scattershot drums and blindly thrashing guitar.
As long as the band maintained control the results were magical. Miller played savage discords at jagged tempos relying on Clint Conley's relentlessly melodic bass playing and the bittersweet vocal harmonies he and Miller repeatedly struck up to hold things together. It was even possible to hear soundman Martin Swope at work for once. He plucked out odd vocal phrases, feedback, figures and such to add to the mix shaped into insane curlicues of eerie sound.