The most recent major tour of Jimmy Eat World commemorated the 10th anniversary of the band's 2004 album, Futures.
Every set ended with that record's closer, "23," a song Jim Adkins, then 38, wrote as a 28-year old about turning 23. But age is less a number in Jimmy Eat World's universe than a feeling—of wanting to be beyond your tumultuous teenhood, or of hoping to escape adulthood's confining stability. While "23" briefly allows for the worry that you will wallow forever in your regrets while wanting what you'll never have, it offers hope that life won't always be so bad, that your woes will subside. But for Jimmy Eat World, after "23," they never really did again.
With 7-and-half minutes of yearning guitars and pleading vocals, "23" is one of their finest songs ever and the last cut from Jimmy Eat World's last great album, a record whose chemistry they have strained to re-create ever since. As Adkins embarks on his first large-scale tour without the band, he appears to be taking a break from trying to be a 40-year-old singer living in someone else's early 20s. That seems healthy enough.
But when an artist who is nominally and virtually synonymous with his main gig embarks on a solo run, especially after Jimmy Eat World's second anniversary tour, is he stepping away from the band to relieve the pressure of age? Is it the sad move of an older man? Or does putting the focus squarely on himself at last allow for a different angle on Jimmy Eat World and himself? Is it a last-ditch effort at reinvention?
So far, at least, Adkins' move doesn't sport the desperation or awkward if unspoken admissions that typically come with such late-career solo treks. With his peers in second-wave emo, such tours have been a way of fighting uphill to remake one's self artistically or finding an alternate income stream. The former appears to be the case with The Anniversary's Josh Berwanger, whose eponymous band swaps his former synth-laden, sugar-shocked pop for roots stylings. Meanwhile, Pedro the Lion's David Bazan has turned the living room tour into a new career path by selling out fan-hosted gigs across the country at $25 a ticket.
In 2015, Adkins still has access to a fanbase broad enough to allow him to do one or all of the above. Jimmy Eat World's commercial heyday was short, sure, but it occurred at a time when rock-band popularity could result in platinum status and constant rotation through MTV and Clear Channel outlets. The high-selling Bleed American in 2001 spawned four successful singles (and could've been responsible for 11?), even if the typical pop fan may think only of "The Middle"—or its video, where comely teens cavort in their underwear at a pool party.
Its 2004 follow-up, Futures, did well enough, too, selling more than 600,000 copies and debuting at No. 6. But none of its singles seemed to spark the way "The Middle" or "Sweetness" did. A Butch Vig-produced clutch of All-American alt-rock songs that never pushed past five minutes and sounded as anachronistic as a mixtape, 2007's Chase This Light appeared to be a reaction to the brooding Futures. On 2010's Invented, Jimmy Eat World attempted to return to the diversity and sprawl of their third album, Clarity, resulting in their most coolly received record. Damage, in 2013, at least improved their fortunes both commercially and critically, though not to those decade-old extremes.
In light of Jimmy Eat World's sundown, and in a world where an Uncle Kracker/Sugar Ray/Better than Ezra collaboration exists, one might assume it's only a matter of time before Jimmy Eat World is subject to the indignity of sharing a stage with, say, Lit and Alien Ant Farm. Consider Dashboard Confessional, the Lewis to Jimmy Eat World's Clark in terms of pioneering emo in alt-rock formats. They're currently co-headlining with Third Eye Blind, one of the few alt-rock hitmakers led by someone who sings about himself more than Dashboard's Chris Carrabba.
But Jimmy Eat World now has a safety net, as they can appeal to casual fans and those who see them as canonical. Damage arrived in June 2013, almost the exact moment when the still-ongoing "emo revival" was gaining traction. This movement provided a boost for bands who achieved far less fame than Jimmy Eat World at the time—Mineral and American Football were slotted into festival bills, while the Get Up Kids and Saves the Day became viable nostalgia acts.
Simultaneously, 1999's Clarity emerged as one of the definitive, first-ballot "greatest emo albums ever" candidates, alongside Sunny Day Real Estate's Diary and the Promise Ring's Nothing Feels Good. Bleed American was not far behind. Jimmy Eat World seemed suddenly peerless in the realm of 21st century alternative rock music: Was there any other band at their level who kept the same members for nearly two decades, never went more than three years between albums and still managed to make decent records on a major label?
A solo tour not only keeps Jimmy Eat World off the stage with Vertical Horizon but might allow Adkins the opportunity to be seen at last not just as a famous band's singer but instead as exactly the person he is—extremely earnest, with better tastes than you might expect but absolutely no concept of cool, or, thankfully, no interest in pursuing it.
For most any other artist, a cover of Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" would be run through an impossible number of discursive filters: Is it an act of poptimism, a misappropriation of a subversive feminist anthem, or a means of distancing himself from a subgenre, emo, that is harangued for belonging to men? He likely covers it for the same reason he does Magnetic Fields' "The Book of Love" or Guided By Voices' "Game of Pricks." That is, he likes it. Adkins is a guy who, in a Guitar World interview, claimed how much Duane Denison of Jesus Lizard influenced his guitar playing. Listen to Static Prevails, and you can even hear it.
But Adkins is not attempting to use his solo tour as a means of leveraging critical favor, cynically repackaging his previous work or going through the motions. Instead, this seems to be only another instance of what Adkins always strives for—the most direct connection possible between himself and a satisfied customer. As he once sang with Jimmy Eat World, and might sing again without his band, "I got no secret purpose. I don't seem obvious, do I?"
Ian Cohen lives in Los Angeles, where he writes for Pitchfork and Grantland. He tweets: @en_cohen.