Perfect Bands: The Mike Keneally Band

In The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension, Buckaroo’s guitarist Perfect Tommy asks why he must give his coat to a lady, to which Buckaroo responds, “Because you’re perfect.”

The Mike Keneally Band is perfect like that. I dream of a world where musicians simply play the music that’s in their hearts, unaffected by the compromises and limitations of imitation, commerce, ego, and idolatry – a place where no one is trying to be anyone else and everyone is attempting only to be the best at being themselves. So far, to the best of my awareness[1], the sole citizens of such a place are the Mike Keneally Band.

They’re too irreverent for jazz, too smart for rock, and too silly for fusion. Everyone else has to compromise somehow, consciously or unconsciously, either by adhering to the dictates of genre or the needs of a given audience. As a natural consequence, the Mike Keneally Band are understandably obscure, but thanks to the Internet they’ve connected to enough like-minded listeners to sustain themselves.

As one of those people, having followed Mike’s career since the early 90’s, I have to say that what he does excites me to play music but not in an imitative way because Mike’s music is so idiosyncratic that it wouldn’t seem right to take his statements as my own. Most of my heroes play music generic enough to be consumed and absorbed by society at large, and their ideas are just original enough to give them a unique voice within the confines of a particular genre, but Mike exists only in Mike Land. He only makes me want to be original.

While it’s certainly true that the songs flow from the mind of Mike, several words need to be said about Bryan Beller, Joe Travers, Rick Musallum and newcomer Griff Peters. These guys are obviously Special Forces-grade musicians but they are dedicated to Mike’s cause and not to their own aggrandizement. They’re not mercenaries because Lord knows there’s no money in originality or virtuosity. Beyond that, they have achieved a level of unit cohesion that allows them to operate as a single entity. Every band wants to be what they are.

For their steadfast and more than a little Quixotic dedication to originality and creativity, for their mind-boggling musical skills, and for their refusal to be egotistical or bitter about the industry that doesn’t care about them, the Mike Keneally Band deserves to be called Perfect.

1.) Frank Zappa comes close, but Frank was forced to make his compromises with commerce and audience, so he was continually playing an artistic game of Twister — one foot in rock, one foot in classical, one foot in Frank Land.