WASHINGTON, September 5, 2013 — Anyone who’s witnessed a Jimmy Eat World performance has seen front man Jim Adkins whip his dangling bangs off his forehead during a song. It’s not even necessary to have seen Jimmy Eat World live to know this is going to happen. Adkins does this in nearly every video or in any context where the band is playing. This apparent performance tic has become something of a staple in Jimmy Eat World’s bag of tricks and oddly sums up the band’s musical direction over the course of their collective career.
Jimmy Eat World played at the 9:30 Club recently. Even though they had already polished off a few well-known songs in their set, it still didn’t quite feel like a Jimmy Eat World performance until Adkins did his patented hair flip during “Your New Aesthetic.” Somehow, it does feel a little strange, though, to base a band’s profile on something that doesn’t even have to do with music.
Every time Adkins closes his eyes and seems to get lost in the mists of time as he quickly bobs his head, it reminds the audience of how wistful Jimmy Eat World has actually been over the years. It’s that aura that has made their blend of pop/rock, no matter whether it’s labeled “emo,” “indie rock,” or whatever, so appealing.
In 2013, a Jimmy Eat World show – at least in a perfect world – would have a lot of ground to cover. They’re best known for their 2001 album Bleed America (after 9/11 it was renamed Jimmy Eat World, but has apparently gone back to its original title), which saw their greatest success primarily on the back of the single entitled “The Middle.”
Currently their most fondly remembered album, at least among critics and musicians the band has influenced, is 1999’s Clarity. Even though the most well regarded period of their history is now over a decade past, they’ve still crafted numerous songs since then that easily fit in with their best-known pop gems. At the same time, they never shy away from creative detours and relative artistic explosions.
The oddest thing about Jimmy Eat World is the fact that they’ve never really been an independent band despite unintentionally garnering a reputation for this. They just happened to come along right when second wave emo bands were being snatched up by major labels. So unlike some of their contemporaries, Jimmy Eat World has always appeared on one major label or another.
There’s a certain kind of stigma that goes along with appearing on a major label, especially in the circles that Jimmy Eat World’s music associates itself with. But then Jimmy Eat World has always been the perfect mainstream representation of the late ‘90s emo template. That they’re still producing music along the same lines as their heralded earlier work speaks volumes with regard to how consistent and confident their sound has been for well over a decade.
From 1996’s Static Prevails to their recently released album Damages, the band has always put forth their own specific brand of pop/rock polish. There have never been any rough edges to the band’s sound, and this clearly comes across during their live set. The clarity of their various quirky pop/rock anthems can never be understated. New listeners might find it hard to believe that a song like “Lucky Denver Mint” appeared almost 15 years from when they came out with “Damages” because both fit together like clockwork even when appearing in the same set.
Jimmy Eat World has always been confident about what they do well, and that’s easy to see during a live performance. Everything about their set plays on the idea that this is a band that’s perfectly comfortable with being emotionally vulnerable. They always find just the perfect notes to compliment the band’s heart-on-its-sleeve lyrics.
Introspective and intimate moments within their songs mesh perfectly with their offbeat, ballad-like compositions. True, there are times when this band can be a bit too “on the nose,” but up for Adkins’ vocals usually compensate for this. His vocals have a charming quivering quality to them, while the musical accompaniment is generally rousing enough to capture the band’s vulnerability, heartbreak, and general honesty without being cloying.
Watching Jimmy Eat World perform on stage, it’s easy to get the impression that they’re completely lost in the moment. Outside of their songs, they don’t communicate with the audience too much except for bit of nervous banter, delivered as if it’s distracting from what their real comfort zone is. This is fine, though, because once everyone in the audience sees Adkins shake his head, it’s just as easy for them to get lost as well.
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