Jim Adkins

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author HES date 22/08/15 venue Ideal Bar, Copenhagen, DEN

When Jim Adkins first announced that he would swing by Ideal Bar as part of his solo tour, the fan girl in me just instantaneously jumped on the celebratory wagon to excitementville. However, as soon as the first jitters had settled, the worries arrived and they seemed to have kept a lot of people from buying tickets; people that are otherwise big fans of Jim’s more famous role as the vocalist of the rightly praised 00’s rock band Jimmy Eat World. The smallest venue of Vega, Ideal Bar barely sells out on the day, leaving us in a very intimate setting, only centimeters from rock royalty.

All photos courtesy of Lykke Nielsen

Jim Adkins

Adkins arrives on stage two minutes past eight and even though I did not see any warm-up act I am still somehow surprised by the unceremonious way the set just abruptly starts. This is one of my musical heroes. Surely he does not just walk in - his way must surely be paved by musical rose petals and church choirs? But no. Jim Adkins is right there, gracing Danish grounds for the first time since 2007 in a dimly lit cafe-sized venue. He sets up his equipment, turns on the small amp on stage, welcomes us, looks from crowd to amp and back to the crowd, then pulls the cord out of his guitar and performs the first track, one of his new tracks, acoustically.

There shall never be put a finger on the vocal abilities of Jim Adkins. In this moderately sized room he doesn’t struggle one bit, filling the air with his light voice, utilizing affective lyrics effortlessly, but effectively. His semi-acoustic guitar has a sharper ring to it than expected, emitting a more country-laden vibe than I had ever noticed in the Jimmy Eat World soundscape. However, this styling fits like hand in glove when it comes to some of the newer Jimmy Eat World songs such as “You Were Good” and “Please Say No” off the recent "Damages" album. It also serves as a rope, braiding some of the cover songs into the set that would have otherwise stood out more. It’s clear by now that Jim Adkins is inspired by more than one genre, but I have never detected as much melancholic country in his voice as on the country standard “Make The World Go Away” or the more contemporary “Give Me A Sweetheart” originally made famous by The Everly Brothers.

Unfortunately the sharpness of the guitar does not accommodate the grandeur of some of Jimmy Eat World’s more layered tracks - even though they are, of course, insanely popular with the crowd, especially the “Futures”-songs like “Work”, “Kill” and “Polaris”. Luckily the set has a great emphasis on older, less polished tracks that fit well with the austere soundscape - I count a mindblowing four songs from the first album on which Adkins took over as the vocalist in Jimmy Eat World, “Clarity”, which flies well with most of the audience. Also “Chase This Light” gets an extended feature in the set with both the title track, “Always Be” and “Big Casino”. The straight-forward uplifting melodies and encouraging lyrics also work well in this format.

Amongst the memorable covers, the best was surely The Magnetic Fields song, “The Book Of Love”, that Adkins manages to re-narrate in his own voice, the humorous lyrics hitting the unacquainted crowd. It is also hard not to mention a beautiful rendition of Eels a.k.a. E’s atypical, romantic poem-inspired “P.S. You Rock My World” that Adkins seems equally invested in. Whereas other venues got a cover of Rihanna’s “Only Girl In The World”, we’re luckily only exposed to a cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”, that turns from a pink and glittery party anthem and into an angsty coming of age tale, simply through the application of Adkins’ melancholy. He jokes of how people often don’t recognize the covers until a couple of lines in, implying he does these covers as a joke - but I feel there’s a little more to the story. I at least have found a new appreciation of the lyrics of a song I thought I’d gotten enough of.

Then there are the newer songs that Adkins have written to be performed solo - and it is very clear that these songs fit better with the format of the solo shows than the songs composed for a full band. Again they are also characterized by more country inspiration, best exemplified by “I Will Go” and “Hell”. But overall I am most blown away by a rarity - a track I barely remember, a b-side off “Chase This Light” called “Beautiful Is”, growing steadily from quiet and hymn-like to a firework of a crescendo, with Adkins almost yelling out the lyrics.

Now all of this, I can appreciate because I am a fan. It’s hard not to get emotionally overwhelmed by seeing one of your all time favourite artists and realising that your favourite songs off 8 full-length albums (7 if you only count the ones with Adkins as lead vocal) are also somehow his favourite songs - or at least the ones he chose. But at the same time I have never felt as much distance between me and those songs. Adkins voice is saying one thing, but his demeanour is saying something else. He seems closed off and tries to avoid eye contact with his audience, all of this seeming very strange as he has argued in interviews that he likes the intimacy of these smaller shows. However, he seems to awkwardly not be fully able to adjust from the comfortable distance stadiums provide, now that he is here on the 15 centimeters of plateau Ideal Bar provides. He also neglects to utilize the many fans that know the words to his songs as only the last 3 songs ever really get a beautifully sounding audience choir. Adkins is impossibly hard to read and even the bravest that try to sing along seem to fall in and out of courage, Adkins neither acknowledging them or in other ways trying to handle the unreleased energy of the crowd. It seems like melodic integrity weighs more heavily on Adkins’ mind than interacting with his audience as he also, very symptomatically, often joins the last note of the song to his next.

I can’t not let that affect my experience tonight as it weakens an otherwise amazing set, and a long set of which the energy and nerve never disappears. I have never seen a more talented musician than Jim Adkins, but if you compare him to other singer-songwriters that have made this setup their home turf - an amp and an audience, Jim Adkins is not as great a curator of this very demanding format. Unlike most that fail at these constellations because of their simplicity, Adkins manages to deliver a good set, despite its simplicity. The austerity of the setup makes the distinct disconnect between Adkins and his audience stand out, but unlike the many that fail, Adkins has a solid back catalogue of songs that would work almost if played on an out-of-tune guitar next to a lawnmower. That is just how amazing those songs are. Unfortunately great songs can only do so much and whereas I was hoping for a big release of emotions, I am left with an experience that is merely good.

7

Setlist:

  • Love Don’t Wait
  • Just Watch The Fireworks (Jimmy Eat World)
  • Chase This Light (Jimmy Eat World)
  • For Me This Is Heaven (Jimmy Eat World)
  • Hell
  • The Book of Love (The Magnetic Fields)
  • Please Say No (Jimmy Eat World)
  • Lucky Denver Mint (Jimmy Eat World)
  • Get Right
  • Cut (Jimmy Eat World)
  • Girls Just Wanna Have Fun (Cyndi Lauper)
  • I Will Go
  • P.S. You Rock My World (Eels)
  • Damage (Jimmy Eat World)
  • Make The World Go Away (country standard org. by Hank Cochran)
  • Ten (Jimmy Eat World)
  • Polaris (Jimmy Eat World)
  • Integrity Blues
  • Always Be (Jimmy Eat World)
  • Kill (Jimmy Eat World)
  • Give Me A Sweetheart (The Everly Brothers)
  • You Were Good (Jimmy Eat World)
  • Beautiful Is (Jimmy Eat World, B-side Big Casino)
  • Big Casino (Jimmy Eat World)
  • Authority Song (Jimmy Eat World)
  • Work (Jimmy Eat World)

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