City: Washington, DC Venue: The Black Cat Date: 2004-03-04
Joan of Arc's Tim Kinsella
It sounded like a joke when I first found out. I hadn't heard of the opening act, Make Believe, before I arrived. Who were they? A friend told me they were fronted by Tim Kinsella, but that couldn't be the case. I was sure Kinsella was frontman for the headliner, Joan of Arc.
It turns out that we were both right. In a move of Spinal Tap absurdity, Kinsella seems to have decided that the only person worthy of opening for him is, well, himself. Four of Joan of Arc's members comprise Make Believe. When one set finishes, they don't even bother with different equipment, just bring up a few extra members and go on with the show.
Thankfully, the bands' sounds diverge slightly. Make Believe relies on intricate guitar parts and heavy drumming for a tepid take on the type of emo that sputtered out several years ago. The band evoked acts such as Piebald and Hot Rod Circuit, who long ago dropped the sound that Make Believe makes an effort to emulate. Kinsella's voice stayed raw, energetic and aggressive, part screaming highschooler and part pop-punk star.
But donning the title of Joan of Arc seemed to sap him of his strength. As they re-took the stage, he adopted the notoriously airy, infantile persona that audiences and critics find alternately endearing and infuriating. He danced behind the mic stand with the same slow, lugubrious motions of a kid at a String Cheese Incident concert. His distracted, spaced-out rambling can be entertaining in a Pauly Shore kind of way, but gets annoying just as quickly.
Musically, Joan of Arc swerves between the cacophonous noise of Sun Ra and pop orchestration reminiscent of Belle & Sebastian. After the demise of ska, it seems that indie rock has become the haven for maturing high school band geeks. It's not unusual to find rock bands with more than half a dozen members nowadays. Just think of Head of Femur, Broken Social Scene, or the biggest of all: Polyphonic Spree.
While Kinsella swayed in place, the rest of the group ran around in order to switch places between each song, all of them apparently just as talented at playing guitar, keyboards, drums or xylophone. The quirky instrumentation looped around a dozen different melodies in each song, but often seemed confused and unrelated. The crystal-clear xylophone parts generally rose to the top of this lush backdrop, whereas much of the guitar work simply sounded like irrelevant noodling.
The highlight of the show appeared mid-way through, and lasted almost as long as everything that preceded it. The band, aided by a few audience members ineptly and enthusiastically banging away on drums and tambourines, launched into an extended version of "Shadow Government" from their most recent album, In Rape Fantasy and Terror Sex We Trust. Though the titles suggest the band's underlying politics, Kinsella's lyrics stick resolutely to the inane. Few people could consider "Tommy Lee's shadow / has a dick-shadow" to be a political statement.
Kinsella has a good voice in the same way that Dylan or Springsteen do. It's rough, throaty, and insistently personal. His vocals sound more like off-the-cuff rants than carefully planned diatribes. Like Joan of Arc's music, his lyrics juggle sarcasm and sincerity, never stopping long enough to let the audience decide which one is which.
Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .