For a certain segment of Opus’ readership, this might be the biggest music news of 2022: Chagall Guevara is reuniting after a thirty-year absence to perform a single show at Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium on July 2. Oh, and Over the Rhine are opening for them.
For the rest of you scratching your head, here’s a brief rundown. Chagall Guevara was a super group formed in 1989 by Steve Taylor and several others within the Christian music industry as a way to buck against that industry and seek wider exposure. Taylor had become something of an iconoclast by that point, thanks to albums like 1984’s Meltdown and 1987’s I Predict 1990 that mixed quirky new wave with incisive lyrics addressing racism in the Church, televangelist foibles, and the bombing of abortion clinics.
Chagall Guevara contributed a song to the Pump Up the Volume soundtrack, released and recorded a self-titled album in 1991 that received rave reviews and… that was basically it. They never quite made the waves that they’d hoped to make in the broader music industry and broke up while working on their sophomore album. Although they’d contribute to some Mark Heard tribute albums and reunite a couple of times in the years to come, Chagall Guevara was dead — and effectively consigned to cult status, a classic case of “what might’ve been.” They would become, as they cheekily called themselves, “the best band you never heard.”
Post-Chagall Guevara, Steve Taylor would continue releasing music and even venture into film, directing the 2012 adaptation of Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz. In 2014, he released the critically acclaimed Goliath with a new group (The Perfect Foil) followed by Wow to the Deadness, a collaboration with Daniel Smith (Danielson). Chagall Guevara’s other members would pursue their own projects, too, while also playing on albums by popular CCM artists like Margaret Becker, DC Talk, Phil Keaggy, and Whitecross. (The oddest of these projects was Passafist, an industrial music project from guitarists Lynn Nichols and Dave Perkins that released one album in 1994. I don’t know too many people who like said album, but I love it.)
Jump ahead to 2020, when Chagall Guevara launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the release of a live album titled The Last Amen originally recorded back in 1991 as well as a collection of new and previously unreleased studio recordings titled Halcyon Days. Which brings us to the upcoming Ryman concert. Unfortunately, Taylor recently revealed that original bassist Wade Jaynes has permanently retired and won’t be performing. Taking his place, though, will be John Mark Painter, a name that anyone familiar with this weird parallel musical universe should recognize from Fleming & John.
In any case, this news is bound to make some people who’ve waited for a very long time very happy. Case in point, numerous members of a Christian music Slack group to which I belong are already making plans to travel from all over the country to meet up at the show. (Which kind of reminds me of the crazy planning we used to do for the Cornerstone Festival.) I won’t be in attendance, but I look forward to seeing videos from the concert, which definitely has a “once in a lifetime” feel to it.