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Jimmy Eat World at Club Nokia

The Arizona band revisits its ambitious 1999 album 'Clarity' in its entirety

March 07, 2009|August Brown

There appears to be a litmus test among fans of the Arizona proto-emo band Jimmy Eat World to separate neophytes from the truly devoted: If you cheer loudest when guitarist Tom Linton sings an occasional older song instead of usual frontman Jim Adkins, you accrue significant scene points.

At the band's show at Club Nokia on Thursday -- where they revisited the entirety of "Clarity," the sprawling 1999 album that got the group dropped from Capitol Records -- the rowdiest moments came during Linton's turn at the mike on "Blister." "How long will it take me to walk across the United States all alone?" he asks in the chorus.

A better question regarding "Clarity" is this -- if an ambitious album falls in the forest of late-'90s indie rock and nobody hears it, how many Instant Messenger handles like "xxForMeThisIsHeavenxx," inspired by the titles of songs on that collection, are needed to will it into classic status a decade later?

Whatever that figure, it's enough to sell out 10 large theater dates on this tour.

Jimmy Eat World has become a rock radio staple, thanks to such winsome power-pop singles as "The Middle" and "Sweetness," which found traction after the band redoubled from its "Clarity" defeat. But somewhere along the way, that album was rediscovered by bands including Fall Out Boy and Paramore, and it heavily influenced those acts' own chart-topping melodrama.

If you're Hayley Williams or Pete Wentz, "Clarity" is your "Houses of the Holy" or "Kid A" -- the heady and production-heavy record that ushered you into a more refined palate.

The most surprising thing about "Clarity" 10 years on is how backward it makes the band's career arc feel. While Jimmy Eat World's more recent singles have been firmly in the three chords and whoh-oh camp, "Table for Glasses" and "Just Watch the Fireworks" are somehow wispy and emotionally bombastic.

"Clarity" is aggressively tender in a way that challenges and reaffirms teenage listeners. The tricky waltz rhythm of "For Me This Is Heaven" and the John Irving-referencing "Goodbye Sky Harbor" feel precisely attuned to the sensibilities of that audience.

Bits and pieces of the album showed their age -- the rock-radio-is-lame lament "Your New Aesthetic" rang false because Jimmy Eat World is now radio-ubiquitous, and because it's impossible to imagine an alt-rock fan who feels adrift for alternatives in today media climate. But the band obviously enjoyed its unexpected victory lap, and cleverly used a looping device to emulate the 10-minute instrumental jam at the end of the album.

They closed the set with a few B-side shout-outs, including fan favorite "No Sensitivity" (a hard accusation to levy at that particular Club Nokia crowd). But for the couples who sang along to every lyric, drum loop and xylophone fill, it was a fine occasion for the still-young to revisit their youth, a time when correcting radio's monotony seemed a top priority in America.


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