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?

Though he's loath to admit it, the attacks were the crucible from which Bleed American was plucked. Much of that unsettling experience finds its way into the lyrics for the new album, infusing the streamlined pop sensibility of the songs with a strong -- and palpably real -- emotional current.

Whatever his demons, the ever-guarded Adkins kept the problem from even his closest companions.

"Jim is a really private person," says preschool chum Lind. "He's the kind of guy you can know for a long time and be really good friends with but you really wouldn't know a whole lot about him. There's a lot more to Jim than just the way he is with us. If he were to have any kind of psychological thing going on, I wouldn't know about it."

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 the car pulls up to the El Rey, the only thing going on is Adkins' ailing throat, which threatens to jeopardize the band's pivotal performances. The singer spends much of the day passed out in the van, downing tea and herbal medicines, hoping the worst of his illness will pass before it's time to go on.

After a truncated sound check, he doesn't appear much better as the group's caravan makes its way past Farmer's Market and into CBS' massive Television City complex.

It turns out the bands on Kilborn's show perform before the rest of the program is actually taped, a concession to the studio's cramped confines. Jimmy Eat World runs through its song a couple of times while the crew sets up lighting and checks camera angles. The group crams into the control room to watch a playback. On tape, they look staid, their movements tentative. A gaggle of voices offer advice.

"Don't worry," Adkins says, quieting them confidently. "It'll be okay."

The group spends a few tense hours waiting for the audience to file in. Adkins rests uncomfortably slumped in a dressing room chair. He wakes when Marino tells him the rented amplifier he requested has arrived, adding that U2's The Edge was the last to use it.

"Cool," deadpans Adkins, hardly moving. "He got it all warmed up for me."

Linton's family has come out for the taping, and he spends most of the downtime with them in the show's large green room. Burch, meanwhile, heads off with his girlfriend, nervously changing clothes until he's got the right look.

Surprisingly, Lind is the only one who seems genuinely loose, chiding Kilborn's stage manager, "Is the monologue written yet? 'Cause I have some jokes."

Just before airtime, the band gathers in the dressing room. On his way to the stage, a peaked Adkins pauses, offers a wink and comes to life with a jest: "I'm gonna bring the rock."

The small studio is full of Jimmy Eat World partisans who greet the band with a standing ovation. As an announcer calls the group's name, they crash into the first corrosive notes of "Bleed American." Adkins -- back to the camera -- whips around and begins slashing away dramatically with his black Gibson. Ripping through the three-minute tune, the band plays with an unbridled potency that even has the graying, fiftysomething technicians bobbing their heads in approval.

When the segment airs, the broadcast mix will suck much of the life from the sound -- but failed sonics can't mar the moment or dull the wild energy of the performance.

Even the hypercritical Lind has to admit it was a home run. "Yeah," he tells his smiling wife, "we played great."

About to deliver his monologue, host Craig Kilborn -- an unfathomably lanky figure -- appears from his office in time to congratulate the band as it prepares to exit. He offers a rote, "You guys sounded great."

"Ah, you say that to all the bands," chides Adkins.

"No, no," insists Kilborn. "You guys are from Arizona, right? Yeah, I really dig it."

As the elevator doors close, the band -- glowing from the show and the awkward exchange -- breaks out in conspiratorial giggles.

Back at the El Rey, Adkins is sequestered in an upstairs dressing room. Seemingly spent from the Kilborn appearance, his face is shrouded in a hooded sweatshirt as he curls up on a large couch.

Although he's desperately trying to rally himself for the concert, it appears to be a lost cause. Minutes before showtime, he struggles to get dressed, wobbling and cursing as he pulls his socks on. Seeing this, Linton shakes a worried head and mutters to himself.

The overpacked El Rey is a fire marshal's nightmare, its floor an undulating sea of bodies. The walls, meanwhile, are lined with hordes of G.A.S. and DreamWorks personnel. Loud hoots and piercing whistles puncture the air as the lights finally go down.

In the wings, Marino offers Adkins a final out. "Are you all right? Are you gonna make it?"

"I'll get as far as I can," comes the uncertain reply. With that, Adkins swallows hard and hits the floorboards.

It would be folly to overstate their performance, to cast their effort on this night as some monumental stand -- and yet, that's exactly what it is. With backs against the wall they come out, fists flailing, delivering a truly murderous version of "Bleed American." After that it's on to "A Praise Chorus"; Adkins' lyrical plea to Linton -- "Come on Tommy, sing me something that I know" -- sounding more genuine than ever.

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