Nothing feels good: classic emo reunion stories
Although most followers of pop culture tend to associate emo with kids who dye their hair black, fake suicides on a weekly basis, and listen to a hybrid of pop punk and hardcore born on Internet message boards, that’s just Generation Y’s melodramatic take on the style. Long before the first LiveJournal, Gen X had its own version of emo. Spinning off of punk when the rest of America was getting cuckoo over flannel and grunge, a handful of acts sprung up in cities usually off of the musical radar—cities and college towns in the Midwest and Southwest—to bend punk formulas into new shapes. Sometimes obsessed with pop, sometimes obsessed with post-hardcore dynamics, most still seemed obsessed with those girlfriends they couldn’t land. Nearly all of these acts flamed out by the end of the ’90s.
In the wake of the announcement that seminal emo band Braid will join Smoking Popes Dec. 22 at Turner Hall, The A.V. Club reflects on another wrinkle in the classic-era emo tradition: reunion shows, with a catalog of acts who gave in to their romantic, nostalgic sides to reunite.
Entry-level album: Frame And Canvas
In a nutshell: Forming in 1993 in the same fertile Champaign-Urbana, Illinois music scene that spawned the likes of Hum and Sarge, Braid put raw, emotive performances above pop sensibilities. Of course, that meant a lot of hoarse-voiced singing, explosive dynamics, and volumes that could shear the stripe off your mid-’90s emo sweater.
Breakup and reunion story: After the act split up, its prime songwriter went on to form the much less interesting Hey Mercedes. The original outfit reunited for a new album, Closer To Closed, this year. In the time-tested life cycle of bands, that means a Hey Mercedes reunion’s probably already in the works.
Band: Christie Front Drive
Entry-level album: Anthology/Christie Front Drive
In a nutshell: The Denver act’s output was small (just a single full-length album and a handful of singles) and its run was short (from 1993 to 1997), but Christie Front Drive’s often cited as a major player in the mid-’90s emo scene. Christie Front Drive borrowed big-melody dynamics from power pop and post-hardcore’s twisted dynamics to help define the washes of blown-out guitar and heart-wrenching songwriting that’d become a cornerstone of the style.
Breakup and reunion story: Christie Front Drive’s members didn’t do much of note after the act imploded. Before reuniting briefly for a Brooklyn, New York concert earlier this summer and the Denver show, Christie Front Drive previously played for its hometown fans a few years ago at Denver Fest.
Band: The Promise Ring
Entry-level album: Nothing Feels Good
In a nutshell: After the spastic, experimental Cap’n Jazz crumpled, Davey Von Bohlen joined forces with Jason Gnewikow to tackle a more straightforward, almost sugary attack on power pop. Because of its roots in the punk underground, The Promise Ring never achieved an approximation of Big Star, instead finding a blend of bubblegum melodies and clumsy, geeky tales of woeful relationships. The formula would serve the act well for most of its run from 1995 to 2002, and help to introduce emo to a wider audience.
Breakup and reunion story: Although the act briefly reunited, Von Bohlen now leads Maritime through a less sugary form of indie pop alongside the Ring’s drummer Dan Didier.
Band: Jimmy Eat World
Entry-level album: Clarity
In a nutshell: Also forming in emo’s year zero—1993—Mesa, Arizona’s Jimmy Eat World was a rare classic-era emo act to find a home on a major label. While it recorded a pair of albums that’d serve to lay the blueprint for the style, with chiming guitars, loose arrangements, and a penchant for tempo swings that didn’t hint at but rather bludgeoned listeners with emotional cues to the music. Despite the band’s minor hit with “Lucky Denver Mint,” Capitol Records dropped the band, which would retool itself as a more straightforward power-pop act for 2001’s Bleed American, setting the stage for long-term mainstream success.
Breakup and reunion story: As just about the only emo act to find widespread success, Jimmy Eat World has yet to break up. It wasn’t above the nostalgia of its contemporaries, though, and played a tour to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Clarity in 2009.
Band: The Get Up Kids
Entry-level album: Nothing To Write Home About
In a nutshell: Formed in Kansas City, Missouri in 1995, The Get Up Kids quickly learned to ape the sounds of Christie Front Drive and Jimmy Eat World, although they’d plaster over their predecessors’ subtleties for a more immediate, sing-along take on emo-pop. The Kids came into their own on Nothing To Write Home About, finding traction along with a stronger sense of identity and higher energy than most of their peers. The Get Ups branched out to embrace more traditional pop and rock elements on later albums with much less success, until tossing in the towel in 2005.
Breakup and reunion story: With a host of side acts and solo acts, The Get Ups’ alumni were all over the place musically. The band played a 10-year celebration tour of Nothing To Write Home About late last year, and returned to its habit of uneven and unpredictable new albums.
Band: Texas Is The Reason
Entry-level album: Do You Know Who You Are?
In a nutshell: Ditching the Hare Krishna element of his former hardcore band, Shelter, Norm Arenas offset his hardcore roots with a new love of melody. While the band’s songs were more straightforward than many of its emo counterparts were, its punk leanings were often closer to the surface. That combination led the act to a brief stint on Capitol Records, though it split before it produced an album.
Breakup and reunion story: Arenas played in New End Original, and drummer Chris Daly kept time for Jets To Brazil. In 2006, the act reunited like clockwork for a one-off reunion show in New York to celebrate Do You Know’s 10th anniversary.
Band: Sunny Day Real Estate
Entry-level album: Diary
In a nutshell: Not only did Sunny Day Real Estate’s blend of almost hyperbolic displays of crushed-hope pop help turn the emo into a cliché nearly overnight and help to launch the style into the Alternative Nation quasi-underground, the band also pioneered the breakup/reunion format. Originally splitting after a three-year stint in 1995, the act returned with a retooled lineup in ’97, which imploded by 2001.
Breakup and reunion story: The reunion fun didn’t stop there: Singer-guitarist Jeremy Enigk and original bassist Nate Mendel—best known as a member of the Foo Fighters—brought the original lineup out of cold storage in 2009.