Can we take a moment to appreciate a good pop-punk guitar solo?
You know what I'm talking about—the kind that traces the chorus melody as its jumping off point but adds some extra stuff: the repetition of phrases up or down an octave, the tremolo-picked ascension into the upper reaches of the fretboard, the occasional angular spazz-out leading into the next verse or one last chorus.
First Avenue played host to several fine exemplars of the pop-punk guitar solo last night, courtesy of Jimmy Eat World frontperson Jim Adkins. Adkins' live solos are the clearest illustration of my favorite thing about his band: Jimmy Eat World are sneakily weird. Let's go down the rabbit hole.
In an old interview with rock critic Jim DeRogatis, Adkins cited Duane Dennison of the Jesus Lizard as a major influence on his playing. Think about that. Adkins sings like an angel, looks like a boyish dad (and did even before he became one), and wrote "The Middle," maybe the best pep talk ever set to music. The Jesus Lizard made grinding, gonzo noise rock, and Dennison in particular distinguished the group with off-kilter melodies, music-school chops, and spaghetti-western twang.
Sure, Jimmy Eat World were once an independent act, but they and the Jesus Liz are still pretty odd acts to think of together. And yet! Listening to Adkins attack the strings last night, it was there—in his break during "I Will Steal You Back," in the heavy opening riff of "Futures," in the way he embellished simple melodies along the fretboard, and in his tone, which caught your attention without being ostentatious—you could tell those sounds came from a guitar, but they had this elastic, taffy-like quality too, the notes squealing and bending a little on their way out of the amp.
All the breaks were concise—Adkins writes them like songs in themselves, and they are sing-able. In fact, a woman standing directly in front of me during the show sang the break from "23" at her friend, note-for-note, while Adkins played it.
Some measure of eccentricity is hustled into almost everything Jimmy Eat World does, even when they appear conventional on the outside. They once built a rock radio hit out of snippets of old refrains from other people's songs, and they also once wrote a 16-minute ambient rock epic that sounds little like anything else. They will always be "emo," but if you listen to the group's first four albums consecutively, you will find they sound like a different band each time. A band this established doesn't need to maintain such quietly restless creativit in order to keep the lights on, but it's certainly nice when they do.
This craft is still present on the album J.E.W. are promoting, 2016's Integrity Blues, which, although a little too adult contemporary for much of its run time, does give Jimmy fans, out of nowhere, what might be the heaviest moment in their entire catalog: the math rock breakdown at the end of "Pass the Baby." The studio version is, overall, one of the band's most confused songs, but that breakdown rules live, pulling back in a crowd that frankly didn't have as much of an interest in the stuff off that latest album.
Some aging artists will play a bunch of new material early on and work their way back to the oldies. Jimmy Eat World sprinkled songs from Integrity Blues throughout the set, so the performance ebbed and flowed as different parts of the crowd got excited for hits or deep cuts. They blasted through all four major singles from Bleed American (their best album) right in a row at the end of the set and during the encore.
The Jimmies played to a sold-out audience composed of several generations of emo kids, and each of their opening acts had its own contingent of people singing along. This was Microwave's first time playing Minneapolis, but there was already at least one person wearing one of their t-shirts on the floor, and a couple of other people air drumming along to their fills. The Hotelier inspired singalongs that turned the Mainroom into an Irish pub during a couple of their more waltz-like songs. Both acts seemed elated to share a stage with Jimmy Eat World, with Microwave's Nathan Hardy calling them "one of the greatest bands of all time," and the Hotelier's Christian Holden mock-reading their name off one hand as though they were an unknown act following the band in a basement.
Billing The Hotelier with the Jim-Jims was sneakily weird too: While both are emo acts, (and I'm guessing The Hotelier have a few worn copies of Clarity between them) the paths they've cut through their careers are pretty different—Jimmy's been on a major label since their second album, and their image is about as normal as you can get for touring musicians; the Hotelier are self-professed anarchists who make their lives and art into personal and political activism. Jimmy Eat World are a big enough band that a sizable contingent of their fans might never encounter an act like the Hotelier on their own—unless, of course, the introduction happened at a Jimmy Eat World concert. As I overheard someone say to their companion during the Hotelier's "Sun," "This band isn't too bad."
Jimmy Eat World setlist
Sure and Certain
I Will Steal You Back
For Me This Is Heaven
Pass the Baby
Goodbye Sky Harbor
Lucky Denver Mint
Hear You Me
A Praise Chorus
The Hotelier setlist
Goodness, Pt. 2
Your Deep Rest
N 43 59 38.927" W 7 23' 45.27"
An Introduction to the Album
You In This Light