Jimmy Eat World Astounds at Starland Ballroom in New Jersey

If you’re one of those people who hears the name Jimmy Eat World and lumps them in with the past decade’s increase of nostalgia bands pulling cash grabs with reunion and anniversary tours, then you’re not listening. Sure, the band has not just been around for well-over two decades, but has also been solidly and consistently rocking the mainstream since most of the world discovered them from their breakout hit, “The Middle,” 18 years ago.

I won’t pretend to be one of the cool kids who got into Jimmy Eat World from Clarity––their 1999 album that is still held as one of the foundational albums of emo. I remember being exposed to Clarity and liking a few tracks off of it, but it took 2001’s poppier, punkier Bleed American to really pull me in. Fortunately, that led me back to their earlier records, and to truly appreciate how talented the band is at constructing beautifully complex musical landscapes on which their poetic and passionate lyrics can live, and I think that’s what it takes to actually appreciate what a powerhouse this band is, and to understand that Jimmy Eat World isn’t a nostalgia act because they’ve never stopped making good music that matters. Unfortunately, because of a good stint as a radio band, there’s a big chunk of their audience who are radio fans, and radio fans don’t always care to find that appreciation or understanding.

Of course, when you find yourself at a Jimmy Eat World show––like I did, at Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, New Jersey on November 16—you find that all of that is only unfortunate for the radio fans. On this night, the band’s set consisted of 23 songs from 7 of their 10 studio albums. So, if you truly love this band, you’re in for a damn good night. If you’re just there to hear the hits, well, you’re in for a good night, too, but you’re selling yourself short and missing out on much of the beauty that will be laid before you.

Jimmy Eat World started the show the same way they start their newest album, with the title track, “Surviving.” After all, we are at “Surviving, the Tour,” right? And good for them. Throughout the night, they would play six songs from their 10 th studio album––“One Mil,” “Recommit,” “Criminal Energy, and the two singles from the October 2019 release, “All the Way (Stay)” and “555.” Now, as long as Jimmy Eat World has been putting out albums, I’ve always said that every album after Futures has had to grow on me. But when Surviving dropped, I listened to it on repeat for at least a week, and it became their first record since Futures (my favorite) that took no time and needed no growing. There’s a reason that the only other album from which they played as many songs was Bleed American. You might argue that the reason is that the album is new, but I’d argue that it’s because the album is so good. If you haven’t given it the chance it deserves, I forgive you. Now go make it right.

As expected, there was a hefty helping of Bleed American tracks throughout the night “A Praise Chorus,” “Hear You Me,” “If You Don’t,” “Sweetness,” and the title track came in at number two right after “Surviving,” which kicked the night into the high gear start that I’m sure most people needed being not-as-familiar with the first song of the night, and to end the night with the same energy, they finished with their most familiar song, “The Middle.”

But in between the new stuff and the popular stuff, that’s where the beauty lies that could be missed if you haven’t been listening. A little bit from, Chase This Light (title track, “Big Casino”)—one of those albums that took a minute to grow on me, and then became one of my favorites—a few from Futures (“23,” “Kill,” “Pain,” “Work”), and for the longtime fans, they dropped “Goodbye Sky Harbor” from Clarity, but they also went back to their first studio album Static Prevails for “Rockstar.”

If a band can go back through almost 25 years of music, and pull out jams that are all crowd-pleasers one way or another, and you can’t recognize that band as one of the most solid acts in rock and roll, then you’re just not listening.

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About Mike Henneberger

Mike Henneberger is a video producer/director and music journalist with more than a decade of experience. He’s put his live music addiction to good use by contributing to Billboard Magazine, SPIN, and Rolling Stone. You can follow his adventures and misadventures at @mikeyleerock and @abergerjoint on Instagram.

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