There's a fine line between unpretentious and workmanlike, and the reluctant emo heroes of Jimmy Eat World trudged down its edge during a blustery and bloodless 75-minute set at Avalon on Saturday.
Maybe it's because they've just released their "mature" fourth album, "Futures," a collection of punk-pop tunes that are a little longer and a little trickier and a little less TRL-friendly than usual. Maybe it's because they hate the emo tag so much the band figures it's better to show no emotion at all than to play into the expectant hands of their fans, who presented a compelling alternative to the four stiff young men onstage as they congealed into a rough sea of ponytails and baseball caps and erupted into boiling little mosh pits. Maybe Jimmy Eat World gave at the office, in this case the recording studio. The Arizona foursome mustered more personality for the giant, shiny tracks on "Futures," released three weeks ago and already in the Top 10, than it did for a packed house of live bodies.
That's not to say these guys aren't talented. The guitars cranked mightily, the drums were articulately pummeled, the bass lines burrowed to perfection. Frontman Jim Adkins sang with an ominous quiver -- too heartbroken to be cathartic and too ambitious to come undone, but with impressive mettle nonetheless. The songs -- the band played about half of the new album, with the bulk of the set cherry-picked from earlier discs -- careened by one after the other, each as well built as the next, every one the very sound of modern, radio-ready heroics: hard and sweet, menacing and melodic, and powerfully, triumphantly lifeless.
Jimmy Eat World opened with "Bleed American," the title track from the band's 2001 commercial breakthrough (retitled "Jimmy Eat World" after 9/11). To its credit the band didn't lean on the easy appeal or misfit mentality of "The Middle," that album's massive and insanely catchy single, which was tucked inobtrusively into the set, or the razor-edged confection "Lucky Denver Mint," from the "Never Been Kissed" soundtrack. They dug staunchly and courageously into new tunes such as "Nothingwrong," "Drugs or Me," and "The World You Loved," songs that plumb the darkness without. This is new, adult terrain for Jimmy Eat World. Suffice it to say the band hasn't quite figured out how to investigate the world's troubles with as much bravura as it does making out.
Maybe that's why "Futures" closes with a song about turning 23 even though the band members are pushing 30. Growing up isn't easy or all that much fun, sad facts that Jimmy Eat World made clear in concert.
Joan Anderman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org