Few songs represent the early 2000s as well as “The Middle” by Jimmy Eat World. "Hey, don't write yourself off yet," lead-singer Jim Adkins croons. "It's only in your head you feel left out, or looked down on.” Sounds familiar? This song and the album Bleed American helped introduce the burgeoning underground genre Emo to a wider, more mainstream audience. Given that Jimmy Eat World’s main fan demographic during this time was a nation of angsty 15-year-olds, it’s no surprise that Oct. 11, when Jimmy Eat World played the Barrymore Theatre here in Madison for the first time since 2004, their crowd was made up mostly of dudes in their 30s—the now-adults those aforementioned angsty teens grew into.
Local indie rock band Gloss Coats opened the show for Jimmy Eat World, selected unconventionally through a Facebook competition because the original opener, The Hunna, met some visa issues and had to cancel two dates. Forced at the last minute to find a replacement, Jimmy Eat World turned to social media and eventually handpicked Gloss Coats. They are a tight band and fun to watch, but their music felt unoriginal and lack a distinctive sound. However, Gloss Coats showed theirenthusiasm for opening up for such a revered group. By their sheer excitement, they were able to hype the crowd up and create energy for Jimmy Eat World.
Mock street lamps adorned the stage and complemented the fake starry ceiling of the Barrymore Theater. If anyone at the Jimmy Eat World show had seen "A Cinderella Story," this “outside” setting might have conjured memories of the scene in which Chad Michael Murray kisses Hilary Duff in the pouring rain while Jimmy Eat World’s song “Hear You Me” plays sweetly in the background. Kind of overly dramatic, yes, but to many, throwback memories like this are how Jimmy Eat World resonates with them. “The Middle” and “Hear You Me” were anthems to many pre-teen girls who dreamed of a relationship like Chad and Hilary’s, and every emo lyric spouted from Adkins’ mouth connected to them on a deep level.
The whole night seemed driven largely by similar nostalgia. Jimmy Eat World’s set was heavily weighted with pre-Futures material, but they also played five songs from their upcoming album Integrity Blues. Given this glimpse of new material, it’s easy to wonder whether it has the necessary force to bring in what their career needs longevity-wise: a newer audience.
Jimmy Eat World is not an especially relevant band anymore. A member of Gloss Coats specified that his “high school self” was super excited for the show, implicitly suggesting there’s no reason to listen to the band outside of a reverence for a bygone time. That said, they also haven’t put out new music since 2013. The question is whether Jimmy Eat World can make a comeback to relevance, or if their merit going forward lies solely in sentimentality. The latter seems more likely. When they played fan favorites such as “A Praise Chorus” or “Lucky Denver Mint,” the audience passionately sang along, but their newer material was met with a tepid response. Their new songs didn’t veer too far, or at all, from their formula of angsty, emotional alternative rock songs but lacked the same spark that made their albums Clarity, Bleed American and Futures so beloved.
Jimmy Eat World left the crowd satisfied and, by all means, met expectations. They’ve been playing music since 1993, so they know how to please an audience. In this case that meant playing songs that were popular over a decade ago. Their music has an important resonance for those that grew up during the band’s peak, but their show at the Barrymore did not demonstrate that they are much more than pure nostalgia.