Iron Cross, Burma's Biggest Band, Rocks Mae Sot

Brennan O’Connor Contributor

MAE SOT, Thailand — Iron Cross—Burma’s longest-running and arguably best-loved rock group—played its first-ever concert in the Thai-Burmese border town of Mae Sot on Sunday, attracting an audience of thousands to a performance that left fans both young and old singing and dancing well into the night.

The concert, part of the band’s 2013 Thailand tour, also drew appreciative applause from the enthusiastic crowd, which consisted mostly of members of Thailand’s largest Burmese migrant community, in a town known to many as “Little Burma.”

Iron Cross—also called “IC”—was formed in 1991. Starting out mostly playing covers of hits by bands like Van Halen and Aerosmith, it soon started producing original songs that struck a deep chord with Burmese audiences, both at home and abroad.

After more than 20 years in the spotlight, the band has gained a worldwide following among the far-flung Burmese diaspora, touring Europe, the US, South Korea and Singapore. Late last year, the band wrapped up a US tour that included New York, LA, San Francisco and Dallas.

The band has also seen its share of trouble on the road. On March 29, 2009, a show at the Bang Baw Market in Bangkok was shut down by the police, who detained the band and arrested hundreds of fans suspected of being in the country illegally. One man was reportedly beaten during this incident, but the concert was later allowed to continue.

In the wake of Cyclone Nargis in 2008, Iron Cross performed at a fundraiser at Rangoon’s Thuwanah Sports Stadium to 50,000 fans—one of the largest rock concerts ever held in Burma.

In the early 1990s, Iron Cross’s leader singer Lay Phyu put out an album called “Power 54”—a sly reference to the address of Aung San Suu Kyi’s University Avenue residence. The allusion to the Burmese pro-democracy leader slipped past the censors, but earned the band the unwelcome attention of the country’s ruling junta. In 2003, the regime’s notorious military intelligence canceled their US tour without notice or explanation.

Things have changed a lot since then. On Dec. 27-28, the band performed at the National League For Democracy’s Education Network 2nd Annual Fundraising Music Concert in Rangoon’s People’s Park.

Iron Cross is currently putting out a 20th-anniversary album that is a compilation of its greatest hits of the last two decades.