Self-Conscious Finger-Pointing and Stone-Faced Wallflowers: A Cap’n Jazz Dialogue
Once upon a time, Cap'n Jazz took the tropes of emotive hardcore music and gave it some pop focus—well, as long as "pop focus" still makes room for strained, tangled vocals and lyrics about kitty cats. The band centered around brothers Tim and Mike Kinsella and existed for only a few years in the early '90s, but its music proved a huge influence on indie rock and '90s emo. The reunited group hit the Black Cat Friday as part of its minitour supporting the rereleased Analphabetapolothology. Arts Desk's Matt Siblo and Ryan Little were there for the soiree, and offer their thoughts on why this reunion may be a prelude to a concept album about manatees, how without ex-Dismemberment Plan member Eric Axelson and his motorcycle the concert may not have happened, and Cap'n Jazz's continued influence on mid-20s rock journalists.
Matt Siblo: First off, I feel I should mention that although I enjoy Cap'n Jazz, I am not one of those people that worships all things Kinsella but, rather, have a more casual, sporadic appreciation for what they do. I've seen Tim and Mike in a variety of settings (Owls, Make Believe, Owen) and my reactions ranged from admiration to ambivalence. Analphabetapolothology, as enjoyable as it is, was never a seminal album in my musical development. Back then, I was more enamored with the wimpier players in the Jade Tree roster. What about you?
Ryan Little: I think I first really jumped on the Cap'n Jazz bandwagon when I picked up a copy of Analphabetapolothology at MACRock in high school. I was into a lot of stuff like Rainer Maria and Joan of Arc at the time, so Cap'n Jazz kind of explained a lot. I was young, it was fast and messy, so I was into it. I still think the Kinsellas' best moment was American Football, but Analphabetapolothology holds a solid spot in my heart. Don't be too surprised if you see me revert to a screaming 17-year-old at the show. Nostalgia is a powerful thing, sometimes.
Matt: I hear you about the nostalgia. I was practically blubbering at a far less reputable reunion (Screeching Weasel) this past spring. I'm curious about the crowd tonight: Will it be newbies who've since caught on or the ol' backpack crowd? Also, if now is the time for (arguably) second-tier emo to reunite and get its due, whose next? Can a Hot Rod Circuit reunion be next? Jazz June?
Ryan: Well, the Get Up Kids reunite on an annual basis, or so it seems, but maybe they're first-tier? Depends on who you ask, I 'spose. All I know is we won't be seeing a Rites of Spring reunion anytime soon. The audience will be interesting—will there be a lot of X's or a lot of PBRs?
Matt: The early guess is tons of beards and PBRs. I expect a healthy mix of self-conscious finger-pointing and stone-faced wallflowers.
Ryan: Considering only one or two people raised their hand when the band asked who had been at their last D.C. show in '94, and the fact that most people were holding water not beer, I think it's safe to say the crowd was pretty young. I was still worried that despite their youth, they would have held on to that unfortunate D.C. proclivity toward standing still, but as soon as I got swept up into that sweaty, overheated pit, I was happily proven wrong. The funny thing is, instead of the pit being a bunch of 30-somethings reliving their youth—as one would expect at a reunion show—I feel like half the kids there had never even been in a pit before. Did you get that impression?
Matt: I'm proud one of us was in the pit since it was hotter than an oversold VFW hall at the Cat tonight. In a refreshing gender-role reversal, I was left holding two girls' pocketbooks while they battled it out in the sweaty, sweaty pit. From the safety of the side, I was pretty surprised at how much energy the band seemed to draw out of the crowd. In terms of demographics, I saw a lot of beards and brews but, again, that might have been where I was standing.
In terms of the band themselves, I was pleasantly surprised! I'm not sure why I thought this was going to be phoned in (Tim's cranky reputation, mostly) but they rose to the occasion. What did you think? Did it unearth repressed feelings from your junior prom?
Ryan: If only they had played Cap'n Jazz at my junior prom... Oddly enough, it conjured memories of driving to D.C. from Richmond, where I grew up. There was definitely a summer in high school where I was rocking Cap'n Jazz constantly in my car, and I remember listening to that album on the way to see Fugazi play Fort Reno.
Tim's performance, while spot on musically, seemed a bit lackadaisical and detached at times. Of course, that's just how he rolls, and Davey's bald-head banged around more than enough to make up for that. It was a good yin and yang of arty coolness and heart-on-sleeve sincerity. Really, the only let-down was the stage banter. The crowd's energy pushed through in spite of it, but did it seem unbearably awkward between songs to you?
Matt: Oh, I agree. The banter was off—way off. I think you nailed it in your description, in which Davey was the good-natured rocker while Tim took it as an opportunity to fund the next 20 Joan of Arc concept albums about manatees. To be fair, I once saw Tim try to hang himself with a microphone at the Knitting Factory, so comparatively I thought he looked downright cheery tonight. My favorite moment included every single time Tim played the French horn. The low point was easily the "Take On Me" cover. You?
Ryan: The French horn was an unexpected surprise, for sure, but I was actually really hoping for a "Take On Me" cover, so I'm glad they did it... even if Tim had to hold a lyric sheet throughout.
So, at the time, I couldn't quite figure out exactly what Davey was talking about with that whole sinkhole story, but it sounded interesting, if poorly told. My insatiable curiosity led me to ask (former Dismemberment Plan and Maritime bassist) Eric Axelson for much-needed clarification. He explained:
I got a call from Davey on Friday morning at the office and he told me that Milwaukee had been hit with a foot of water in four hours the night before, and in addition to flooding and shutting down the airport, it created sinkholes in a few spots in town, one of which Davey was next to when it happened. He was driving home from work, with what should have been a 15 minute drive, and it took 2.5 hours because of the rain. Anyway, he was asking me how long it would take to get from National to the Black Cat if he could get another flight, but out of Chicago, and I told him it was a straight shot, and laughed that I could pick him up on my motorcycle if he packed light. He was going to land at 8:30 p.m. and catch a cab instead.
That night, I get home from work at 7:30 p.m., and Davey texts me, still on the tarmac at O'Hare, saying that he might need the emergency pick-up after all, because who knows how hard it might be to catch a cab late on a Friday at National. He keeps texting me with updates, I have American Airlines sending me updates, and eventually I get this: "The pilot says that in 10 minutes we'll either take off, or we'll have to cancel the flight." This is at 8:50 p.m. EST. Ten minutes later I get a text from American saying that he'd land at 10:29, then I get a text from Davey saying "taking off." I got to the airport at 10:30 p.m., he comes outside and I say, "You ever been on a motorcycle?" He says, "Nope." I say, "OK, let's have a quick talk about that..." He hops on and off we go to D.C., hitting crazy traffic on 14th, then snaking around through Logan Circle to get him there. I parked at 10:56 p.m., we run into the club trying to explain that he's in the band, but we're both frantic knowing how late it is, and realize that it's easier for me to say, "Oh, I'm on the guest list +1." So I get the tickets, give one to Davey, and in we go. They started I think at 11:10 p.m., he pretty much grabbed a water, tuned up, and played."
Pretty intense, huh?
Matt: The intrepid journalistic stylings of Mr. Ryan Little, everyone! My reactions are twofold: First, I commend your journalistic commitment to our humble endeavor. Secondly, the nerve-wracking story detailed above is infinitely more compelling than the utter incoherence that came from the stage Friday night. If I had to describe it based solely on what I heard it would have been: the bassist from D-Plan, a motorcycle, almost late something, something. Pretty intense commitment on behalf of Davey—perhaps that explains his willingness to put in the extra effort regarding the head banging.
Well, I think we've just about covered all the ins and outs... Anything else you'd like to add? Maybe how this stacked up against past emo reunions you've been to? Better than Grade (which, it should be noted, I drove to Toronto to see) but not as good as the second coming of Texas is the Reason?
Ryan: Oh, I usually miss the emo reunions. Promise Ring's reunion was all the way over in Chicago, Jimmy Eat World never had the good sense to break up in the first place, and I'm still waiting on Rainer Maria's glorious resurrection. I probably should've gone to that Sunny Day Real Estate show at 9:30 Club, but I think they're actually writing a new album now. Let's just say I remember remarking in college that I bet Cap'n Jazz would be the best reunion show, and now I've seen it. Adolescent emo urges sated... for now.