Jimmy Eat World: To Be Young Again

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By Greg Smith, Staff Writer

Five days after the 20th anniversary of Nirvana’s Nevermind release, Jimmy Eat World played a sold out show at the historic Wiltern in observance of the 10th anniversary of their pop/punk hit Bleed American. Ballsy, sure, considering the album was actually released in July 2001; maybe the 10th anniversary they’re actually celebrating is the re-release of Bleed American after the September 11 attacks, when, worried about the general public misconstruing the band’s intentions in uncertain, raw times, they repackaged the album, eponymously-titled that go-round. A straight-up masterpiece Bleed American isn’t, but if you were to poll a wide swath of twenty- to thirty-somethings, they’d most likely admit to having a soft spot for the album akin to The Postal Service’s Give Up.

Comparing it to Nirvana and their magnum opus isn’t entirely fair; given Nevermind‘s game-changing legend, preserved in the annals of Rock History, any anniversary show this past week would’ve looked dinky. (What, no P.O.D.’s Satellite 10-years-young show? Seriously, I would pay to see that.)

A sweet confection, Bleed American could arguably stand toe-to-toe with Nevermind in one regard: monster hooky hooks. It wouldn’t be unusual to hear “The Middle” follow “Smells like Teen Spirit” on modern rock radio—they’re both that ubiquitous. The difference is that Bleed American had no danger element save the title, no subversive qualities to worry kid’s parents. Jimmy Eat World were cool because they looked like everymen, and instead of singing songs of alienation, they sang anthems about self-acceptance and girls, lost and found.

Jimmy Eat World would prove to be the torch-bearers of the emo-punk movement (see also: Vagrant Records’ 2000s output) with this album. They prevail in the hearts-on-sleeves genre if there ever was one, un-cynically capitalizing on the fragile psyche of the young, lovesick IM-ers. They are an antidote to the rap/rock hybrid (ex. Limp Bizkit), and more radio-friendly than the ensuing Garage Rock Revival (ex. The Strokes). Although emo, generally speaking, has aged better than rap/rock, it’s widely considered a High School Phase…evident by my younger cousin’s recent attendance to a Dashboard Confessional show. Like Matthew McConaughey’s famous quote in Dazed and Confused affirms, “I get older and they stay the same age.”

But, I digress. Does Bleed American hold up now that my heart has hardened, black as charcoal? The answer is: yes!

Jimmy Eat World took the stage to massive applause from a genuinely enthused crowd, nostalgic for a time when they didn’t have day jobs. As promised, the band tore right into Track 01, “Bleed American,” renamed “Salt Sweat Sugar” after 9/11. It’s an angular call-to-arms, as angry and ragged as you’ll hear the boys get. What followed was the entirety of Bleed American in sequential order, with JEW servicing the songs with polish, poise, and passion. Personal favorite “A Praise Chorus” had me mouthing the words heartily, a feel-good anthem that I put on at least two mixed CDs in high school.

The crowd, not surprisingly, cheered hardest for “The Middle,” their biggest hit and somewhat of a calling card. “Hey, don’t write yourself off yet / It’s only in your head you feel left out / and looked down on.” This perfect piece of pop-rock was Katy Perry’s “Fireworks” minus the sap, Foster the People’s “Pumped up Kicks” in terms of everywhere-status airplay, the song in every movie trailer until at least 2004. Most people were introduced to the band through the iconic music video for this song, where kids danced in their underwear at the coolest house party ever, feeling empowered by the fully clothed Jimmy Eat World’s message.

The band hasn’t seemed to age at all from that era, their youthful exuberance matched note-for-note by the singing crowd. The following “Your House” was a mid-tempo strummer; “Sweetness” was the final hit off the album, a reverberating piece of seamless all-chorus preceded by the four songs, all hits to varying degrees minus “Your House.” With such a front-loaded album, the casual fan might’ve been a little deflated at the midpoint, but the crowd seemed perfectly content now that the hits were out of the way.

Ballad “Hear You Me,” with it’s “May angels lead you in” chorus, had the crowd uplifted and waving their lighters, while “If You Don’t, Don’t” is a finger-wagging, guitar-driven kiss-off…but as far as kiss-offs go, this one is pretty polite.

Jim Adkins, lead singer and guitarist, was clearly front and center, with a guitarist, bassist, drummer, and keyboardist flanking him. His “Aw shucks, look how far we’ve come” banter kinda killed the momentum every now and then, but it’s his ten year anniversary, so I guess he can do as he pleases.

More muscular “Get It Faster” made sure we were all paying attention; “Cautioners” sounded just as good as it did coming out the speakers of my ‘93 Ford Explorer back in the day. “The Authority Song” was prime pop-punk, with a surf-rock beat and the keyboardist “Ahh”-ing stellar backup.

Then, fittingly, “My Sundown” closed their set, evocative of sitting around on hot, sticky summer nights with friends you’ve since lost touch with. A comfortable silence lingered while the music took over, until someone said something funny, breaking us all out of our idyllic, naive introspection.

These expert tunesmiths have since had other hits; they’re far from simply being a nostalgia act yet, though they never quite recaptured that spark with youth culture’s imagination again. It’s not 2001 anymore, thankfully, but Jimmy Eat World proved that in this day and age, while you can’t be on top forever, you never really fade away.

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