Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be. Cereal boxes have their 60s logos. NBA teams have “throwback” jerseys. And Sly Stallone’s The Expendables is a lesson in geriatric bloodshed. Music is hardly immune from this culture of yesteryear, with bands reuniting left and right. At first glance, Cap’n Jazz and their current summer reunion tour seem no different.
When whispers of a Cap’n Jazz reunion began, the FC feared another one of those money grabs that aged musicians can’t seem to resist. Artists who can’t let go of the glory days often get the band back together. The difference with Cap’n Jazz is that despite their role as Chicago’s pop emo-godfathers, they barely had any glory days as a band. This reunion is not about rehashing, but about finishing what they started.
Prior to the early-1990s, the emo (or emo-core) scene was defined by bands that are a far-cry from the guy-liner of today. Bands like Rites of Spring, Sunny Day Real Estate, and Jawbreaker were heavy, gritty, and power-packed. Just barely an offshoot of hardcore punk, early emo was abrasive and high blood pressure inducing, but lacked a wide appeal, due largely to its intensity. Enter Cap’n Jazz, five scrawny Chicago teens with nothing but learners permits, to teach us all a lesson.
The history of Cap’n Jazz has reached near mythological heights, but a few facts are considered canon. After releasing a handful of singles, Cap’n Jazz released their one and only LP in 1994, the breathlessly named Burritos, Inspiration Point, Fork Balloon Sports, Cards in the Spokes, Automatic Biographies, Kites, Kung Fu, Trophies, Banana Peels We’ve Slipped on and Egg Shells We’ve Tippy Toed Over; or more commonly known as Shmap’n Shmazz. A frenzy of an album, Shmap’n Shmazz overturns proverbial barricades, and sends listeners on a trip down memory lane. Only this lane is filled with juvenile feelings of inadequacy, fears of the life to come, and the general discomfort that comes with the coming of age. Then, at the beginning of their first U.S. tour, the band abruptly dissolved. But it was not the last we’d see of these boys. The break-up of Cap’n Jazz spawned many bands, including: The Promise Ring, American Football, Owls, Joan of Arc, Owen, Ghosts and Vodka, Vermont, Maritime, and Make Believe. In other words, these five kids shaped the Midwestern indie/emo scene.
As an active band, Cap’n Jazz developed a small following. It wasn’t until after their break-up that popular emo label, Jade Tree, released Analphabetapolothology, a retrospective two-disc collection of their entire career, including Shmap’n Shmazz. The record solidified their stance as godfathers, ushering in a new generation of emo rock that is inclusive, rather than exclusive. Gems like “Little League”, “Yes, I am Talking To You”, “Forget Who We Are” and “Rocky Rococo” showcase the band at their best, with full on wailing vocals, confusing power chords, bubbling guitar tapping, and killer drumming; all weaved into abnormal song structures. They simultaneously sound like innocent teenagers and wise prophets.
Throughout Friday’s electrified show at the Black Cat in Washington, fans pleaded for Cap’n Jazz to stay together in between songs, and band members kept brushing them off. They didn’t even call it a reunion. “Don’t break up again!” a fan begged. “We can’t break up if we don’t really exist,” replied guitarist Davey von Bohlen. “You can’t kill me, I didn’t die.”
Ultimately, the show allowed fans and bandmates alike to both admire and put an end to the days of our youth. The days of roller coasters and hanging out at the movies and cards in the spokes and ill-fitting clothes and annoying parents and Bruce Lee and life-encompassing crushes are over. We’re adults now. Time to move on.