A lot of things contribute to how you feel at a live show. Whether you dig the band's latest album, what the size of the venue is, the spirit of the crowd, the setlist. In my case, at some shows I feel tremendously young and full of energy. At other shows I feel terribly old. For Jimmy Eat World at one San Francisco's premiere large theater venues on September 22, 2013,, it was definitely the latter.
I've been a fan of Jimmy Eat World since their first proper catalog release, Static Prevails, which debuted in 1996. This was a very different time for the band. Guitarist Tom Linton still sang lead on most tracks, and they were on Capitol Records but were still playing youth centers and in church basements with acts like Mineral and Christie Front Drive. It was an odd place between emo and pop punk, and between being indie yet being signed to a major.
1999's Clarity is perhaps their most transcendent and sublime release; to my ears they've yet to top it. And yet I've kept listening, through their explosion onto radio in 2001 with "The Middle" and onward.
Oh and did I mention that I was well out of high school by the time Static Prevails came out? That's the part about feeling old.
Jimmy Eat World, to their credit, did not. I've never seen a bad performance by them, whether at a 300 person venue or a 3,000 seater, and this was no exception. Despite that bassist Rick Burch was missing–and whoever was filling in (Jim shouted out a thank you but I missed the name) gave a serviceable, but lackluster, going-through-the-motions–the overall gestalt was powerful, heartfelt and sincere.
I was surprised by the diversity of the setlist. Usually for a band on their sixth or seventh major release, you sort of get a handful of numbers off the album they're touring behind, and then a predictable greatest hits presentation of the rest of the band's catalog. Not so here. Sure, we got "Bleed American," "A Praise Chorus" and "Sweetness." There was "Chase this Light" and "Big Casino" and "Always Be." But we also got a solo acoustic performance of "For Me This is Heaven" which was so thick with melancholy you could hear a pin drop as the crowd just stared forward with their mouths agape. Also "Goodbye Sky Harbor" and "Lucky Denver Mint," in addition to set favorites "Your New Aesthetic" and "23." A real gem was "(Splash) Turn Twist," which is effectively a b-side from the import editions of Bleed American. The set was also, for this genre, lengthy, making me feel the sting of rising ticket prices and convenience fee creep a bit less.
But a good setlist is more revealing, like a journal entry, for what it leaves out. For years now, Static Prevails have effectively been redacted from the band's history (perhaps Tom is not up to singing lead anymore). More telling, however, was that only two songs were featured from 2010's Invented (The lead single, "My Best Theory" and "Heart Is Hard to Find"). Two tracks. That's the least of any other album represented. By far. How well does the band regard it, y'think?
I felt old for the usual reasons- the crowd. Many were in their early twenties and reliving when they first heard "Work" off 2004's Futures. Even more were swaying to "Hear You Me" and thinking about how 9/11 ruined their Freshman year of high school. Young couples were slow dancing, pouring into each others' eyes, seemingly ignoring the band completely (and not holding their booze very well). Sort of like prom night with a better band.
During the encore, a fight between two girls broke out on the floor just in front of me. There was yelling, then crying, then laughing, then crying again. Interspersed with hugging. Meanwhile Jim Adkins was channeling the contents of his soul through his guitar and cradling it like a scorned lover.
It was all very emo.