Jimmy Eat World - HMV Forum, London 22/06/11
I wonder how disheartening it must be when you're a band that continues to write and release records in the knowledge that a significant chunk of your audience probably only cares for your earlier works.
For instance, I am quite happy to state vociferously that Weezer have not released a decent record for nearly 15 years, but would it hurt Rivers Cuomo's feelings if I told him directly? In truth, I'd probably shy away from doing so because I'm a bit of a wimp really (though not as much as Rivers undoubtedly is). Instead, we'd shuffle about awkwardly discussing 'soccer' and beard growth. Even if I did pluck up the courage to tell the man that the Green Album was my musical Phantom Menace, I guess he could console himself with money, Japanese schoolgirls and hanging out with the fat dude from Lost.
Jimmy Eat World have never made a classic album in the way that Pinkerton is a classic, but in 1999 and 2001 they did release two very enjoyable pop-rock records, Clarity and Bleed American (the latter renamed Jimmy Eat World post-9/11 only to subsequently reclaim its original title on reissue in 2008). Tonight the band is celebrating both albums by playing them in their entirety back-to-back, as seems to be the done thing these days for bands whose latter-day output pales in comparison with their earlier works.
Clarity is the more sedate record, so works well as a kind of warm-up – a substitute for a support act (there is none tonight). Its songs are intricately crafted and reflective; its disappointing commercial returns would lead to the band being dropped by Capitol Records, making way for the more direct, self-funded Bleed American. Back in '99, slow, twinkling opener 'Table For Glasses' was the commercial rock radio cousin to by-then defunct peers Mineral's Endserenading swansong. Tonight, it's poised, lovely and glacial, albeit weighed down by a rhythm section-heavy mix.
The band gamely runs through up-tempo numbers such as 'Lucky Denver Mint', 'Your New Aesthetic' and 'Crush', though the combination of quiet, muddy sound and a crowd placated by the record's slower songs means the gig takes a while to really take off. Things begin to click, though, with one of those slower songs: 'For Me This Is Heaven', with its ever-so-slightly cringy Dawson's Creek-esque lyrical refrain, "Can you still feel the butterflies?"
But Jimmy Eat World have never really been about cool cynicism, and the combination of a cleaner mix with an earnest (and rather pretty) fan favourite provokes the first murmurings of a singalong. By follow-up 'Blister', fronted by guitarist Tom Linton, the crowd is heartily singing, "And how long would it take me to walk across the United States all alone?" with abandon. From here, the band goes from strength-to-strength.
Clarity's title-track is passionate and purposeful, and first-set closer 'Goodbye Sky Harbor' is a delight – the song's winding outro played in its hypnotic near-entirety, singer Jim Adkins adding layer-upon-layer of "baa-baa" and "doo-doo" vocal loops before a drum machine kicks in and gets everyone moving. It's at this moment my friend turns to me and proclaims, "Jimmy Eat World finally discovered techno!" and I realise that everyone – band, crowd, myself – has loosened up and is having a good time.
There is a short break for a toilet dash before the main event – everyone primed to burst into life when the band returns to kick into 'Bleed American' (née 'Salt Sweat Sugar'). And burst into life everyone does. Even I, the humble, impartial music critic, cannot help but be swept up in the nostalgia of hearing one of the great rock songs of my teenage years, making a beeline for the heart of the crowd and suitably losing my shit. "Salt, sweat, sugar on the asphalt! Our hearts littering the topsoil!" the crowd bellows, those earlier murmurings now full-on wailings.
The pace doesn't let up with 'A Praise Chorus', Bleed American's strongest song. Even 'The Middle' – a little dull and, ahem, middle-of-the-road on record – is beefed up and vital live. The band does misstep with a reworking of 'Your House', but 'Sweetness', with its wonderfully corny "woah-oh oh oh-oh-oh" hook, is a communal celebration of vowel sounds. The band confidently breeze through the rest of the record – 'Get It Faster' another fist-in-the-air singalong, 'The Authority Song' prompting my most awkward white boy dance moves. And in no time at all, Jimmy Eat World are signing off with the elegiac, poignant 'My Sundown'.
The band does return to the stage to run through a selection of latter-day tracks, including singles 'Big Casino' and 'Pain', and it's here that I'm forced to return to this review's initial musings. The hardcore up front happily lap up the extra songs, and the band seems genuinely moved by everyone's appreciation throughout, but it's hard to shake the feeling that these extra songs don't really add much to proceedings. None of them are bad, per se, but neither do they have the same effect as the earlier works.
For many people, Jimmy Eat World are a band frozen at a certain point in their lives – they're the soundtrack to teenage parties and youthful relationships. Those two early records will always hold a special place for a lot of folk, but subsequent releases to an audience that was growing older and more cynical meant the band struggled to maintain interest after a certain point. Futures may not have been anything like my musical Phantom Menace, but sadly, despite its promise-laden title, it never managed to fill me with A New Hope either. And like with the Star Wars movies, I prefer to remember the instalments I loved as a youngster, and sweep the rest under the carpet.