On a typical tour supporting an album, Jimmy Eat World will play over 150 shows worldwide. But on their tour to support 2019’s Surviving, they only played 27.
The reason for not making their concert quota? Do we really need to explain at this point?
The local band-done-good played a majority of those 27 shows on foreign soil, meaning American audiences didn’t have much of a chance to hear their 10th record in a live setting. That included those of us in Phoenix, where Jimmy Eat World originally planned to close out their Criminal Energy tour at the Arizona Federal Theatre in September.
This wrong was made right — as much as it can be in a pandemic, at least — on Friday, when Jimmy Eat World released the first of its “Phoenix Sessions,” a series of streamed shows the band performed at the Icehouse downtown. (To ensure that there will still be live performances to attend when the pandemic is over, a dollar of the $15 ticket price for each concert goes toward the National Independent Venue Association, or NIVA.)
Friday’s concert, the first of three, found Jimmy Eat World performing Surviving in its entirety. It premiered at 3 p.m. Arizona time and is available to stream for 72 hours after. (Their performances of Futures and Clarity will premiere on the same day and time every two weeks for the next month, respectively.)
Appropriate title aside, Surviving is an obvious choice to kick off the series. The arrangements are punchy, with rhythms and riffs that get you moving. “[Surviving] felt like we needed to do a full-band performance,” bandleader Jim Adkins said during the preshow festivities.
It was clear as Jimmy Eat World launched into the record’s title track that this was going to be more than just five musicians filming a concert on their iPhone in their bedroom. All the elements of a great rock performance were onscreen: the flashing lights, smoke, and state of the art graphics playing in the background. The frenetic cameras caught Adkins, Tom Linton, Zach Lind, Rick Burch, and Robin Vining’s energy playing together, bathed in red light. The editing kept up with the song’s fast pace.
The band’s members, it seemed obvious, have been dying to share this record with fans. And this was a full-ass performance that deserved applause and roars from a crowd. Surviving is full of energetic guitar anthems meant to be appreciated by an audience at maximum volume, and tracks like “All the Way (Stay),” with its big riffs and buoyant chorus, are perfect for arenas (or the smaller Arizona Federal Theatre). Even a song that plays with volume like “One Mil,” which starts with a quiet acoustic guitar and leads to a bombastic refrain, demands to be heard on speakers bigger than the ones on a laptop.
There are limitations to the streaming format, as fans who have tried to get their concert fix digitally over the past 10 months now know all too well. The live-show dialogue between band and fans is hard to replicate over a stream. There are only so many camera angles. In this instance, there wasn’t a tremendous amount of difference between the “Phoenix Sessions” version we watched and the one Jimmy Eat World recorded in the studio — though, to be fair, the band didn’t have the chance to play these songs every night out on the road. And the show premiered in the afternoon, as most of the city was getting out of work. (I saw fans watching on their desktops at work on social media, and wondered how they felt seeing the show on such a small screen; I felt lucky that I was able to broadcast the show on my television from my laptop.) You might consider queueing it up in the evening — a little more “live show” energy that way.
Nobody’s fault but the pandemic. Adkins and the band tried mightily to capture the thrilling aspects of a live performance — “This is the only time we’re playing these songs this year,” Adkins screamed at one point — and there were moments throughout when I felt something like the way I do hearing great songs in a venue surrounded by actual bodies. I’m thinking here of the moody “555” and “Congratulations,” the strobe-light filled finale.
The 40-minute set ended with an image of the phone booth, a reference to the cover of Futures. It left me eager to see what the band has planned next. We’ll find out on January 29.
Last Night: Jimmy Eat World “Phoenix Sessions”: Surviving
The Crowd: Nonexistent
Overheard: The landscaping crew working on my neighbor’s yard across the street.
Random Notebook Dump: “My 2-year-old seems to be enjoying his first Jimmy Eat World show.”
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