Is emo dead? It seems like just yesterday when bands like the Promise Ring, the Get Up Kids and Jimmy Eat World were marrying punk's wily chug to pop's slippery shine, crafting songs that didn't sound like Blink-182's and were better for you too. But consider: The Ring are now rubbing elbows with Tom Waits and Tricky on Epitaph's Anti- imprint; the Kids have gone mini-mall, unloading over 100,000 copies of their last record; and JEW's latest sounds like Third Eye Blind. Where, oh where, have all the brittle boys gone?
It's a strange fate for a music once cherished for keeping rock's inflated id like a secret, emphasizing soul-cleansing catharsis as a muted expression of the superego. But both bands playing on October 21 leave that hand-wringing purity of purpose behind for a far more immediate suggestion of post-adolescent whatever. Don't expect effete arpeggios and (as many) sun-streaked moons, nor the aw-shucks vulnerability that's been at the heart of this music since prematurely balding Promise Ring singer Davey von Bohlen resurrected geek chic. It speaks to the limits of that type of apparatus that members of both bands did time in more legit emo outfits before forming their current bands. Hey Mercedes actually used to be a more legit emo outfit: Braid, one of the mid-'90s' most loved. After 1998's Frame and Canvas, which did as good a job as any record from the band's peers at defining emo's bottled-up intensity, three of the guys kicked out the fourth and formed Hey Mercedes. Everynight Fire Works, the band's muscular, Tom Petty-leaning debut, makes it seem like the fourth guy was the one with the thing for the effete arpeggios. Same for New End Original, a new Jade Tree concern that claims members of second-wave heavyweights Texas Is the Reason, Far and Chamberlain; Thriller, their new debut, hems close to the rocker/power-ballad ratio Firehouse once deployed.
Emo allowed guys with confidence issues to identify with other guys with confidence issues overcoming them. When the stage is crammed with denim-clad Peter Framptons, how can those guys possibly be shown the way?