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Wednesday, October 1, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 61.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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Mission of Burma makes a mosh pit out of the High Noon Saloon
Roger Miller hits a high note.
Credit:Jessica Steinhoff

Before Friday night's Mission Of Burma show at the High Noon Saloon, I helped my boyfriend chop his hair into a mohawk. He hasn't worn his hair this way in a while, but the shearing seemed like a good a way to liven up a bummer of a Friday afternoon and tap into our teenage identities.

Little did we know it would turn into a symbol of the night to come. Sure, we'd heard Mission of Burma's live albums, plus lots of praise for the group's onstage dynamism, but we were both curious just how energetic a band that's older than both of us could be for a full set of beautiful, blistering post-punk.

As it turns out, these guys have got more kick than most people half their age, even much-buzzed-about Florida quartet Surfer Blood, who opened the show with a big, lush set of pop-rock but aren't old enough to drink a PBR.

I was suspicious when the roadie began shaking a bucket full of earplugs and beckoning the crowd to try them. Sure, I want to avoid hearing loss as much as the next person, but plugging my ears quickly reminds me that I'm just a few decades away from a Miracle-Ear, a Life Alert and a Hoveround. I took two, recalling how tinnitus broke up Mission of Burma in 1983, and crossed my fingers, hoping for the best.

Starting with "1, 2, 3 Partyy!," the band quickly blasted my doubts out of the venue, the zip code and perhaps the entire tri-state area. As the roadie counted to three in a detached baritone, guitarist Roger Miller rocked out with a Jagger swagger. Pretty soon, dozens of fans were raising a beer and instructing one another to "drink only when drunken to."

For many bands, this sort of posturing would be the apex of their stage act, but for Mission Or Burma, it was only the beginning. By the third song, "Blunder," drummer Peter Prescott was singing, Miller was marching around vampishly and bassist Clint Conley was making shocked-and-awed faces at the crowd.

While the band's set list was built upon 2009's The Sound The Speed Of Light, songs from 2004's ONoffON (the album that so skillfully announced their reunion) and Obliterati (the juicy, jagged follow-up) wheedled their way into the show as well. Perhaps most exciting, though, were explosive versions of "Devotion" and "This Is Not A Photograph," two favorites from their 1981 EP Signals, Calls and Marches.

Before launching into "Photograph," Miller gave the city's rock 'n' roll past -- and High Noon owner Cathy Dethmers -- a shout-out by welcoming the crowd to her former venue, O'Cayz Corral. However, newer songs such as "Possession," filled with shouted lyrics, swiftly shifting time signatures and nuclear breakdowns of guitar and bass chords, proved that the band's still on a mission to shock, rock and politicize.

Though it took more than half of the show for the crowd to really get moving, when it did, all hell broke loose. A glass of ice rocketed onto the stage, as well as a purse, as the crowd's core morphed into a mosh pit. Bones collided and elbows ground into eye sockets while a row of true believers splayed their chests and arms onto the stage, pausing only to look for a lost cell phone during the second encore.

When a middle-aged man in a SpongeBob SquarePants T-shirt hurtled past me during "That's When I Reach For My Revolver," I knew was time to let loose and earn a shiner or two. I hadn't moshed in years, but I think I'll be doing it well into my golden years thanks to this band -- and this crowd.

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