Brave New World

No makeup. No gimmick. No shtick. But does Mesa's fast-rising Jimmy Eat World really stand a chance against the likes of Britney and the Backstreet Boys?

Backstage it's a mob scene as friends, family, well-wishers, industry types and hangers-on all gather to kibitz in cramped quarters.

By the time the band takes the stage just after 9, the packed, un-air-conditioned Glass House is like a sauna. When the band opens with an extended guitar vamp that introduces "Bleed American," the crowd explodes in a heated state of frenzy.

The scantily clad nubiles at the foot of the stage cast hungry gazes at Burch, who teases them with a slow, subtle bass grind. Linton, too, sheds his shy, retiring persona, playing with a self-assured ease that seems to pour from his hands. Atop a riser, Lind holds everything down with a steady brace of percussion.

Jimmy Eat World: From top, Jim Adkins, Rick Burch, Zach Lind and Tom Linton.
Jimmy Eat World: From top, Jim Adkins, Rick Burch, Zach Lind and Tom Linton.
Jimmy Eat World: From top, Jim Adkins, Rick Burch, Zach Lind and Tom Linton.
Jimmy Eat World: From top, Jim Adkins, Rick Burch, Zach Lind and Tom Linton.

As a front man, Adkins performs with enough intensity to strip paint -- his vocals hurling like fiery shrapnel from the stage. After a few songs, his neatly held thatch of hair unfurls into a moppish mess of black; his dark shirt is heavy, leadened with sweat.

Still, the largest cheers of the night are reserved for Linton when he takes the mike to sing "Blister" -- another shoulda-been hit off of Clarity. As the crowd shouts along to the punkish romp, one thing becomes abundantly clear: If Burch is the band's face, Adkins its heart and Lind its mind, then Linton is most assuredly its soul.

Mid-set finds the group pulling out acoustic instruments for a clutch of quieter tunes. Adkins' gently articulated tales of confusion, disaffection and unrequited love have the audience in a state of rapt, adoring attention.

Then during the harsh, surging "Get It Faster," the teeming mosh pit seems to engulf the whole floor. By the time the band encores with "Lucky Denver Mint," crowd-surfers begin to shoot up from the audience like geysers.

When it's all over, two blond girls, no more than 15, cling to each other as they emerge from the mass of bodies. The giddy pair -- faces stained with sweat and tears -- look as if they've just come from a teenage tent revival.

They are the heart of Jimmy Eat World's fan base.

"[We're] a rock band," says Lind, "but there's a sensitive side to it, too. Jim's got a sensitive voice. The songs and the content of the lyrics are more of an introspective thing. That comes across really well with female fans or guys that don't care about being on the football team. That's kind of where our audience lies."

Their handlers know it, too. G.A.S. and DreamWorks are hoping to tap the lucrative market consisting primarily of female teens -- girls who've grown out of 'N SYNC, aren't quite ready for Radiohead and are looking for something in between.

"It's kind of esoteric," says Wood, "but there is this wonderful comfort zone in Jimmy Eat World. And I know I get that same feeling when I go up and stand next to the stage and sing along to the words. There is a kind of snowballing effect. It's part of what rock 'n' roll was always about -- it's something you enjoy with your friends. It's about community."

It's Monday, a make-or-break day for the band, and Jim Adkins couldn't be in worse shape. The unrelenting workload of the past few weeks has finally caught up with him and he's struggling with a serious bout of the flu. In a few hours the band is scheduled to play a high-profile gig at Los Angeles' El Rey Theatre and make a crucial appearance on CBS' Late Late Show With Craig Kilborn.

The Kilborn gig is doubly important. Not only will it mark the band's national television debut, but it will also be a test to see if it's worthy of earning a spot on David Letterman's program in New York the following month.

With his condition worsening, a sniffling and sore-throated Adkins agrees to do an interview during the 90-minute trek from Pomona to L.A.

During the drive, Adkins tackles a wide variety of topics, from the group's close-knit bond ("If one of us left or decided to quit, I think it would be the end of the band") and its current success ("A combination of being really lucky and having realistic goals about things"), to some of the embarrassing video treatments they've been pitched ("Oh, God. There was one that had us morphing out of clouds in the sky").

The subject he seems least comfortable discussing is the anxiety disorder that's plagued him for the past two years.

"It started toward the end of the Clarity tour," he reveals reluctantly. "It was ultra bizarre 'cause I really couldn't pinpoint what was wrong. I was reading, and out of nowhere I started freaking out, feeling like I was having a heart attack or something. I didn't understand what was going on. I thought it was probably just physical stress."

Ultimately, Adkins was able to control the panic attacks with medication. "It's tough to get rid of it completely," he adds. "Whenever it gets to a point when I feel it building up a little bit, it kind of gets to your head like, 'Is this gonna happen again?'"

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