Mid song, about two and a half in after I got to the Knitting Factory last night during Owen's quiet solo set, someone by the bar shouted out "Emo Sucks!" and the place went quiet. Yikes. I'm not sure anyone knew how to react. Well, yea, it does? But, no, this guy's good...But is this really emo? Perhaps, in the most basic and grounded sense of the word, but...is this EMOSUKS! emo? Or does emo that sucks involve hysteric teenage girls and eyeliner? This was more Elliott Smith or Bright Eyes emo, which most people seem to agree doesn't suck at all. Wait, was that guy actually even serious? It was really quite the loaded statement, uttered by someone who was either a paying attendee of the show or a guest of the band. The idea even crossed my mind that this was part of the song. Mike Kinsella (aka Owen) stopped and attempted to address the guy, but was mostly drowned out by the even more curious calls from the audience that the heckler was a terrorist and hated our freedom. Yeah, this was weird. And we hadn't even gotten to Joan of Arc yet.
Owen finished up with a few more excellent and uninterrupted songs, made a joke about Pete Wentz and Ashlee Simpson making out over the weekend, thanked the crowd and left the stage. Joan of Arc was up next...the spacey, near-inaccessible byproduct of Cap'n Jazz, which is more or less responsible for emo as we know it today. The 7 of them took the stage shortly after and played a set of difficult but interesting gems. It came across much more comfortable and straightforward than Tim (Mike's big brother) Kinsella's other band, Make Believe, did at Bowery a few months earlier, but it still was not conforming to anything easy to digest. The moments of clarity when Tim is singing and the instruments realize that they are playing the same song come in spurts, but are completely transfixing when executed. When the band intentionally loses focus and starts meandering off, my attention span tends to go with.
It's frustrating, I suppose, because Tim has shown in the past that he has the primal ability to produce epic, accessible, crowd pleasing rock, but he just chooses not to. Listening to an old Cap'n Jazz song is like seeing a great abstract artist's early sketches of still life and landscape. What would have happened had he stuck with what he was so clearly good at? Perhaps he would have blended in with those he had influenced and remained a mere footnote in the constantly evolving history of emotional hardcore. Instead he has lifted himself over the last decade as one of the most polarizing figures in indie rock, creating bands that people love to hate almost as fiercely as his supporters encourage him to continue.
By the end, in what felt like it could have been a quintessential Joan of Arc moment, before the final song of the set, Tim asked for a round of applause for one of his band mates, and then urged it to keep going. And going. And LITERALLY 3, 5, 10 minutes later, everyone was still clapping. For no reason whatsoever. And it was annoying and frustrating and didn't make any sense, but the crowd kept it up. Even if they hated it, they were loving it. Tim seemed like he was enjoying himself more than ever before. ("Do your arms hurt yet? Keep clapping! We're gonna break the record for the longest clap ever!") At one point Tim started slowing down the clap, but the crowd responded by cheering even louder. That's loyalty! No matter how dumb what he was doing was, the fans were there to support him even beyond what he himself thought was excessive. The whole thing was completely surreal and so fucking obnoxious I could barely stay in the room. But I couldn't stop smiling either. It provided a glimpse into the unexplainable, which is exactly what I was hoping for from a Joan of Arc show.
(pic of Tim Kinsella via Wikipedia)