Jimmy Eat World
Fiesta Bowl Block Party in Tempe
December 31, 2010 - January 1, 2011
Playing a New Year's Eve concert is sort of a big responsibility. Sure, it's easy to impress a merry and well-lubricated crowd, but there's a larger obligation, too. If you're playing before the largest crowd assembled in an entire timezone -- as Jimmy Eat World was doing at the Fiesta Bowl Block Party, at least if you use the organizers' estimates of 100,000 people through the gates at the shindig surrounding Mill Avenue -- you've gotta at least make some attempt to capture the mood of the times and set the tone for the year to come.
Jim Adkins proved himself more than capable of snaring the zeitgeist as the clock rolled over to 2011. No sooner had the "2011" sign flipped down than the singer looked around impatiently for his band, saying "Anyway, back to work" and doing two quick jump-kicks as a firework display was still shooting off from Hayden Butte.
"Work," the second single from the band's 2005 album Futures then rang in a year sure to be defined, at least in in part, by the lingering economic hangover from burst bubbles and a squishy soft labor market. The band belted out the song in the shadow of a towering condo project that may never be finished -- cold, dead concrete only animated by a red light meant to ward off low-flying planes -- for a plainly dressed crowd that mostly eschewed funny hats and those glasses shaped like the digits of the new year. If that didn't sum up the spirit of the year, I don't know what could.
Then again, maybe Jim was just trying to finish up the set and get back inside -- you know it's a frigid night in Arizona when Cleveland is 20 degrees warmer than Phoenix. Not that a beer-warmed crowd in stocking hats and gloves seemed to notice.
Either way, "Work" was the best moment in an appropriately workmanlike set from the veteren Mesa-based band. Considering the crowd was skewed heavily toward Midwestern tourists in town for college bowl games, it was a little odd that Jimmy Eat World sounded exactly like they have every other time I've seen them. But they did, and that's a good thing. There was no cheesy cover of "Auld Lang Syne" -- just the regular set with old favorites like "Your New Aesthetic" from Clarity saddled up next to new stuff like the single "Evidence," which prominently featured local singer-songwriter Courtney Marie Andrews.
Adkins gift was only emphasized by a bumbling speech from Tempe's blowhard mayor Hugh Hallman, who took stage in a "relaxed" look (wearing blue jeans every bit as convincingly as John Kerry) and proceeded to use up the crowd's precious reveling time to thank every last person with a desk in city hall in a hoarse yelp that sounds like what I imagine he believes the emcees at rock concerts to sound like. It was awkward indeed.
After that, it took songs like "The Middle" and "Sweetness" to get things back on track for 2011, which is, thankfully, exactly what the band delivered.
Last Night: Jimmy Eat World at the Fiesta Bowl Block Party
Personal Bias: I'm from Ohio so you'd think I'd be able to handle the cold pretty well but I was waaaaay too frozen and sober from Jimmy's set to even imagine having shown up in time to see Kinch.
The Crowd: A little older than you might expect -- probably a lot of folks in town for games looking for a big party to attend.
Overheard: "That Jager is keeping me warm!" yelled a dude who smelled like he was telling the truth.
Random Notebook Dump: If you see a guy in a Michael Vick jersey is it appropriate to tell him you've bet $20 that he can beat his friend's ass and that if he doesn't succeed in doing so you're going to taze him a few times?