In the liner notes of Cap’n Jazz’s 1998 anthology Analphabetapolothology, singer Tim Kinsella opined: “reissues…undermine our pretenses by making what was once special and precious in its rarity, somehow a little less in its convenient availability.” To Kinsella, the reissue served as a means of “getting over and past it” in terms of his own personal involvement with the highly influential Chicago band.
Now, twelve years later (and fifteen since their disbandment), one wonders what inspired Kinsella to get past getting past it; Cap’n Jazz have reunited for a handful of shows on both coasts. Supported on the eastern shows by their hometown contemporaries Gauge — who called it quits in 1994 and reformed earlier this year — both bands are giving audiences (many of whom were in elementary school during their existence) a taste of what made the music of the Midwest so important in the early 90’s.
Saturday’s sold-out show at Philadelphia’s Starlight Ballroom was crowded, but not packed. The nearly-100 degree heat had clearly sucked some of the life out of the crowd, as Gauge opened the show with a blast of energy that seemed to fall on deaf ears. A pioneering act in the Midwestern post-hardcore/emo scene, Gauge’s off-kilter sound is more akin to that of Hoover, Current, or earlier Fugazi than emo stalwarts like Mineral or Braid (two bands that would list Gauge as influences). Despite a lukewarm reaction — little movement from the crowd and only scattered applause — the band’s unrestrained enthusiasm in playing together again was apparent from the get-go, with guitarist Kevin J. Frank nearly wrecking his equipment during their first song.
The energy the crowd had been saving up boiled over as Cap’n Jazz took the stage, and lasted throughout their hour-long set, consisting of tracks almost exclusively from their sole LP (or the first disc of Analphabetapolothology). Tim Kinsella — whose somewhat tuneless croons had always been a point of contention regarding the band — shrieked and howled his alliterative wordplay faithfully to the band’s recordings, despite having to use written lyric sheets for some of the stream-of-conscious ramblings of songs like “Tokyo.”
The real pleasure of the performance was in watching the band of 30-somethings regress into the primal, shirtless, “anything goes” urgency of the basement show era; guitarist Davey VonBohlen thrashing spasmodically between backup yells, Kinsella blaring away on a French horn, and his brother Mike somehow keeping it all locked together on the drums with rapid-fire precision. The sheer joyful chaos of it all culminated in the set’s penultimate song: “Ooh, Do I Love You.” The entire crowd screamed: “I’m singing / I’m hollering!” over and over with the band, as if to answer those who would question the necessity of it all with the explanation that there is no explanation. Nostalgia never sounded so good.