One of the coolest things about music, in my opinion, is the fact that everyone has a story of how they came to develop their tastes. For the vast majority of people, there was some sort of influence or catalyst that would forever shape the musical path they would take.
I didn’t grow up around much music. There was always either country or tejano playing in the background at home, but it was never anything I truly grasped onto (except Selena. All hail Selena). So by the time fourth or fifth grade rolled around, I was beginning to branch out and discover new styles of music. When it came time to buy my very first CD, I ignored my friend’s suggestion of The Goo Goo Dolls (thank God) and went with my gut: Jimmy Eat World’s Bleed American.
With that one purchase, my entire musical tastes began to take shape. It was the catalyst that sent me down the deep emo/punk/indie hole where I currently reside. It immediately changed the way I saw music. It was more than just a passive collection of notes playing in the background. It was hard-hitting messages wrapped in layers of angsty aggression and gooey pop hooks. Without that record, I wouldn’t be the same music listener today. I would probably be one of those people who puts “everything but country and rap” down as their favorite type of music and thinks Imagine Dragons are a good band. I have a lot to thank that record for.
I know I haven’t even got to the real point of what I’m writing about yet, but I think those three superfluous paragraphs are necessary in establishing my connection with those songs. Jimmy Eat World are one of the most important and highly regarded bands to me. I was lucky enough to see them for the first time live last year in Austin, and then drove to San Antonio the next night to see them again, because real world obligations are overrated and emo will forever have my heart. Those two shows were some of the most spectacular things I’ve ever witnessed, so when I caught wind last week that frontman Jim Adkins was playing a solo acoustic show nearby, the decision to go was a no-brainer.
Acoustic shows are often a crapshoot in my eyes. A lot of frontmen-turned-solo artists fall victim to the various pitfalls that come with marching out alone on stage to play full band songs. Sometimes their voices don’t hold up in such a stripped down setting. Sometimes the guitar-work teeters to the extremes of being too simplistic or too complicated, overshadowing the songs themselves. Whatever the issue may be, the bottom line is playing a solo show comprised mostly of acoustic versions of full-band songs is a tough go. But those issues had no chance of tripping up Adkins, as he took the stage and proceeded to deliver one of the most flawless performances I have ever witnessed.
Adkins, no stranger to solo work, having previously made songs under different monikers, commanded the stage with just an acoustic guitar, letting his most vital weapon, his voice, carry the weight of the songs. Whereas it would have been easy to see the cracks in his vocals begin to show with such sparse instrumentation around him, Adkins swung in the other direction, with his voice using the freedom around it to skillfully deliver notes in such a way that I have never seen. Musically, Adkins’ guitar-work was masterful, never becoming too overbearing, but firmly establishing itself. His arrangements did a wonderful job of stripping down songs without losing the essence and power that they possess. All of these aspects could have been the set’s downfall, but Adkins handled them with ease. With all those bases covered, all that was left to deliver were the songs. And boy did they ever deliver.
Adkins’ setlist was a perfect storm of various sources. Present were the new original songs that will make up his upcoming solo 7-inch series, as were a plethora of covers, most notably a cold, droning version of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”. But the real treats were the Jimmy Eat World songs that served as the bulk of setlist. With such a deep and diverse catalogue to draw from, it would have been easy for Adkins to go the safe route and load the set with the hits, but he opted for a more subtle approach, picking the (slightly) deeper cuts that resonate as fan favorites. Early gems like “Lucky Denver Mint” and “For Me This Is Heaven” were warmly received, while emotional juggernauts from the seminal record Futures like “Polaris” and “Kill” hit like sledgehammers. The most interesting choice to me, however, was Adkins inclusion of four songs from Chase This Light (the title track, “Always Be”, “Big Casino”, and B-side “Beautiful Is”) while playing none from Bleed American. I have long held that Chase This Light is a severely underrated record, housing some of the band’s most shining pop masterpieces, and the majority of Bleed American have been live staples for years, so I understand the decision. I would have gladly accepted a deep cut being thrown in there (seeing an acoustic version of “Get It Faster” or “Cautioners” would have ended me), but I was more than content with the setlist, which was clearly meticulously put together, as evidenced by Adkins gleefully dismissing an obnoxious fan screaming that he needs to play “The Middle”.
Everything about the show was perfect. It is impossible to expect a solo acoustic show to compare to the thunderous live performance of an entire band, but Adkins pulled it off. Jimmy Eat World employs some of the best vocals and instrumentation ever heard in this corner of the music world, but what has consistently been their biggest weapon is the emotion that their songs hold. The songs carry a resonance that, when delivered in such an intimate setting, truly shine. Jimmy Eat World always will be a vastly important part of my musical taste, and being able to experience Adkins passing those songs along with such power all these years later is truly special.