Kinsella’s Make Believe music

Tim Kinsella

Tim Kinsella

Any fan of cutting-edge music is aware of the importance of Chicago. The sheer presence of clubs like that city’s Empty Bottle—a venue devoted entirely to experimental and improvised music—denote the formidable presence of the avant-garde. This is the city where free-jazz saxophonist Ken Vandermark cut his teeth and where Jim O’Rourke held court before joining Sonic Youth and moving to New York.

Given the context, it is no great surprise that rock bands hailing from Chi-town would share a penchant for warping the seemingly tired edges of rock music. A particular branch of this lineage showed itself in fine form at Capitol Garage last week, as some of Chicago’s most well-known and influential musicians played a trio of complex and fundamentally incredible sets.

The bands were created by a rotating cast of musicians, each band sharing members from the other bands. The most famous of the three, Joan of Arc, displayed why it is one of the most groundbreaking acts on the scene. Bandleader Tim Kinsella’s vocals were an almost atonal scramble of lyrics over rhythms that were nearly impossible to count. For the most part, Joan of Arc sounds like four or five musicians playing totally different songs simultaneously. Lest the reader think that this is meant to be a negative comment, let me assure you that this is visionary, groundbreaking music played by visionary, groundbreaking musicians. It does, in the end, cohere, and it does so beautifully.

I am tempted here to type out what I have been telling my more musical friends for years: that Joan of Arc is the most important band currently performing. However, there is one roadblock, and that roadblock goes by the name of Make Believe.

Another brainchild of Kinsella, Make Believe is essentially last year’s touring lineup of Joan of Arc. But it is so much more than that. Performing in the center slot, Make Believe played what essentially sounded like a grungier, much louder Joan of Arc. Every lyric was screamed, the guitars were a churning mess, the bass was out of control, and the drums were staggering drunks through midnight streets. Believe it or not, it works, and it works well. Insane prog-rock, post-punk or just plain rock ’n’ roll, Make Believe is outstanding in every way. Check out its new EP when it arrives in stores in May. In the meantime, check out the band’s label site at (Also on the bill was Love of Everything.)

Even if you’re Genetic James and Michael Jay Mayhem, life isn’t always bonkers. Sometimes, it’s just mundane, particularly if half of your band departs for what one presumes to be waters less bonkers. Such is the case with punk/metal/comedy duo Life Is Bonkers, which has announced the departure of Mayhem. A freshly sober Genetic James will marshal on with the trademark Bonkers sound, though, with a new guitarist and perhaps a slightly different name. Watch for further updates.