LIVE: Jimmy Eat World @ The Phoenix Sessions – ‘Futures’

By Fiachra Johnston

We’re nearing an entire year of gigs being put on hold while the outside world undergoes the most intense round of fumigation it’s ever seen, and while it’s hard to grapple with the knowledge we’re still a while away from in-person events returning, it’s been fun watching musicians make the most of it.

From Puscifer debuting an album in the desert to Code Orange recreating an entire episode of MTV Unplugged, the rise of streamed gigs has shown just how creative and intuitive musicians can be: throw them coal, you’ll get diamonds thrown back. So for Jimmy Eat World, a virtual show provides ample opportunity to cover new ground. Despite the current situation, the band from Mesa have not sat idle, playing acoustic shows to raise money for some of the local Arizona hotspots important to their legacy, and hosting a podcast featuring the likes of Frank Turner and Marc Rebillet as guests.

The aptly named Phoenix Sessions, however, is their first venture into online gig territory. The quartet, along with longtime touring member Robin Vining, have united for three streamed shows, each covering a single album of theirs in its entirety: their tenth, most recent album, ‘Surviving’, their fifth, ‘Futures’, and their third, ‘Clarity’. Be it a Lollapalooza crowd or a small town bar show, Jimmy Eat World pride themselves on every show being sonically savage while retaining a rather simple set up – no fancy tricks or props, just rip-roaring music. It’s a unique change of pace, then, to see the band perform in such a heavily produced set, running projector video in the background of their previous ‘Surviving’ concert, and tonight performing in a booth surrounded by delicately hanging neon lights. It’s wonderfully refreshing to see JEW take advantage of the medium to work with a more stylised space than a traditional concert affords, and after a brooding introductory shot featuring the iconic payphone booth, it’s clear the flaring lightshow does little to hamper the band’s usual flair and energy either.

As for the music, what is there to say about ‘Futures’ that hasn’t been said already? From the kinetically charged opening salvo of the titular ‘Futures’ into ‘Just Tonight’, to the slow burn of ‘Polaris’ immediately contrasted by the rioting guitars and chanting of ‘Nothing Wrong’, to the ultimate farewell-nostalgia of closer ‘23’, this is an incredible performance of an incredible album that, perhaps more than any of JEW’s records, has grown more relevant and more accessible over time. Released just after the Gold-Certified juggernaut that was ‘Bleed American’, ‘Futures’ returns to the more layered style of older Jimmy Eat World entries, and is a surprisingly introspective album under all its sharp swagger, with tones of melancholy and hope over present situations scarily empathetic of our current plights.

While this is a pre-recorded show benefiting from more post-production and mixing than a live concert, it’s still testament to the band that their decade-and-a-half pop punk record not only sounds as good – if not better – than it did in ‘04, but that a full playthrough is able to evoke so much emotion and memory through a virtual performance. Adkins’ silky vocals are never drowned out by the complex shreds and guitar lines JEW are famous for stacking on top of one another, and similarly, no instrument ever feels lost in the shuffle, with keys and bass from Robin Vining and Rick Burch shining through when they’re needed.  

Nothing has changed, and yet everything has changed. It’s the same beautifully constructed album, performed with the same vibrancy the group have always possessed – but with 16 years, a pandemic, and our own experiences growing up with this album, Jimmy Eat World’s ‘Futures’ simply hits harder than it ever has before, making for an intensely cathartic virtual concert like no other. Jim Adkins and co. remain as true to their best selves as ever for the Phoenix Sessions, and Futures remains a definitive pop punk classic that’s only blossomed brighter over the years.