WHEN MISSION of Burma ended in early 1983, it wasn't because any of the members had defected. It was just singer-guitarist Roger Miller's ears that had quit. His tinnitus was severe enough to shut down the Boston art-punk band for 19 years. The group, which Saturday plays the second 9:30 club gig of its post-reunion career, began its second run in January 2002, and has been performing infrequently but steadily since then.

"We get along really well," says Miller of himself, singer-bassist Clint Conley and singer-drummer Peter Prescott. "We all have our strong points and our weak points, and someone always rises to the occasion to cover for the inadequacies of the other."

For most of the intervening years, Conley worked as a TV producer, a profession he continues today. The other two musicians, however, played in a string of bands, including Miller's Birdsongs of the Mesozoic and the Binary System (both of which play lightly amplified experimental music) and Prescott's Volcano Suns, Kustomized and the Peer Group. (Miller is also a member of the Alloy Orchestra, which performs live scores for silent films, and is frequently featured at the National Gallery of Art; and since 2001, Conley has fronted Consonant.) Offstage member Martin Swope, who mixed and manipulated the sound, eventually left Boston, but the other three continued to collaborate.

"I played on some Volcano Suns records," says Miller by phone from Boston.

"Pete played on a Birdsongs of the Mesozoic album, and Clint and I recorded a single. Clint played bass for the Peer Group for the last year. And I sat in playing organ and trumpet."

So the three didn't need to get reacquainted when Burma began to play again, this time on a schedule of a mini-series of three shows, then taking three months off. To further protect his hearing, Miller wears industrial headphones, and Prescott's drums are sequestered behind a plexiglass shield.

"It's pretty common these days," Miller says. "A lot of country bands use one to keep the sound of the drums away from acoustic guitars. But we use it just to keep the sheer volume away from my ears."

In addition, he explains, "I don't use any monitors at all, and my amplifier is at my hip. But I can still get feedback. I can go behind it, or in front of it, temporarily, to get feedback."

Miller is pleased that audiences have accepted these precautions. "We have so many strikes against us. I go onstage wearing these ridiculous headphones. And people take me seriously."

The reaction has also been favorable to the new "ONoffON," which is only the second full studio album Burma has ever released. "We all agreed we were going to bring in new songs," the guitarist notes. "At each of those clusters of shows, I would have a new song, and Pete would sometimes have a new song. Over the course of two years, this pile of songs started to accumulate. It became clear that we should make a record. And then at the end, Clint brought in 'Nicotine Bomb' and 'Prepared,' and Pete and I each had a new one."

The principal distinction between making "ONoffON" and 1982's "Vs.," Miller reveals, is that "20 years ago we were playing eight to 10 shows a month. So for us to go in the studio was just, kind of nothing. {grv}'Oh, now we're recording. Instead of performing.' {grv}'Vs.' was recorded two days after a show. With this one, we hadn't performed in six months. We did two shows just to get ourselves into shape.

"In that respect, it was a really different experience. A band that's performing all the time just lets it rip. We still let it rip, and when you listen to the record, you'll never know we were pensive about it. But it was a little more tense."

Working with Bob Weston, a former Volcano Sun who took over Martin Swope's responsibilities, Burma recorded much the way it did in the early '80s. "We pick three songs," Miller explains. "We do them in a row, and then if one of them is good, we just do the next two songs. Sometimes we'd do a song over, but that's partly because some of them we'd just barely learned. We hardly ever do the thing that a lot of bands do: 'Today we're going to record this song.' And you do it five times until you get it a certain way, and then you record it."

Unlike many rock musicians, who build from the rhythm tracks, Burma basically records live in the studio. "We don't do separate drum tracks," the guitarist says with a laugh. "I can't even fathom that."

This time, however, they did record {grv}"scratch" vocals for the songs, and then re-recorded them separately. "On {grv}'Vs.,' I kept all my live vocals," Miller recalls. "In retrospect, I should have re-recorded a few of them."

On such new songs as "Falling," the vocals play a larger role than in Burma's '80s sound. "When we were thinking about making a record, one of my notes to myself was: The vocals are our secret weapon," Miller notes. In the past, "whenever we'd have three-part vocals, it would be three guys yelling at the same time. On 'Vs.,' about half my songs I'm just kind of declaiming. There's a lot more harmony on this record. Clint was always the stronger melodist than I was, but now my songs have more cohesive melodic lines."

Pop tunefulness was not the guitarist's original concern. As a teenager in Ann Arbor, Mich., he remembers seeing the MC5 in the afternoon and a concert of music by Karlheinz Stockhausen in the evening. "It just didn't seem like any kind of dichotomy. I carry that with me."

Asked about Conley's description of the band members as "closet progressivists," Miller chuckles. "I can't say I was in the closet. We weren't really punk rockers in the sense of [three-chord] progressions like the Ramones. To us, the Ramones stripped it down, and you could rebuild your music from there. A [Burma] song like {grv}'Secrets,' which has basically one chord, is very much an art-rock song. But it would not have occurred without the Ramones."

As with the second comings of Wire and Television, the reunited Burma has been greeted enthusiastically because the band didn't wear out its welcome the first time. In the '80s, Burma drew respectable crowds in only a few cities, among them Boston, Washington and San Francisco. Yet its recordings have continued to sell, and such performers as R.E.M. and Moby have brought Burma songs -- "Academy Fight Song" and "That's When I Reach for My Revolver," respectively -- to larger audiences.

"The reaction we're getting is just so amazing, that you have to weigh the cost," the guitarist says. "Yeah, my ears are ringing more. It's like anything. If you're a football player, you're bound to break bones."

Miller ponders the suggestion that Burma might be even hipper now than it was two decades ago. "We have nothing to prove whatsoever," he says. "We don't have to prove we're cool. We're not 20, 25. I'm 52. And we're just doing what we love. We're still battering at the world, but we're more chipper than we used to be."

MISSION OF BURMA -- Appearing Saturday at the 9:30 club. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Mission of Burma, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8101. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)

The reunited members of art-punk Mission of Burma -- Roger Miller, left, Peter Prescott and Clint Conley -- don't perform live very often. Their new album is "ONoffON."