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Stasis prevails

Jimmy Eat World, live at the House of Blues, February 26, 2009
By RYAN STEWART  |  March 3, 2009

GREATER CLARITY? Well, maybe not, but you couldn’t complain about a good band going all out to play near-perfect renditions of their best material.

Slideshow: Jimmy Eat World at Houes of Blues.
My first reaction when I heard that Jimmy Eat World were undertaking a tour to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Clarity — their best album, and one that helped to define the genre we now refer to as "emo" — was a bemused "Really?"

Not to sound disrespectful toward the band or the album or anything. I'm as prone to nostalgia as the next guy. I was 17 when Clarity came out, and it provided the soundtrack to many a night in those days — and the band certainly deserve kudos for recognizing this as their best work. (I know I sure wouldn't have gone to see them in 2009 under any other circumstances.) But still, all that said: really, guys? As much as I enjoy Clarity, isn't it setting the bar a bit low for a victory lap, particularly one with all the attendant fanfare? Of the bands tapping into the same current as Jimmy Eat World back in the late '90s, JEW weren't the first, the best, or even the most quintessentially "emo." I can't help wondering why this is the record from that era to have survived and developed a cult following. Maybe I'm just harder to impress these days (that is, not 17).

But as the band ripped into "Lucky Denver Mint," the song that should have propelled them into the mainstream (rather than "The Middle," which accomplished that feat two years later), at the new House of Blues last Thursday, I was struck by a different thought: this tour is not about a band trying to stake their claim in rock history. Rather, it's about a band trying to come to terms with their own history. In a perfect world, whatever success JEW have achieved would have come as a result of this album and not the saccharine Bleed American. Clarity is so enjoyable in part because it's nakedly ambitious and unabashedly catchy. On the scale of injustices, this doesn't rate particularly high, but Clarity deserved to find more of an audience than it did at the time. Thus, the show felt less like revisionist history and more like course correction.

As this revelation was sinking in, the band started to play "Your New Aesthetic," the de rigueur attack on mainstream music and radio that now took on ironic new meaning. Clarity has certainly helped inspire its share of the watered-down poseurs they sang against, and even JEW have since scored a few hits by catering to the very set they criticized. Yet at the same time, a good portion of the kids who packed the HOB wouldn't have discovered Clarity in the first place without those hits.

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