Twenty years ago, an odd debut got the Chicago band lumped into a genre in which it didn’t belong.
While opening for American Football at New York’s Terminal 5 earlier this year, it was a bit paradoxical to hear Tim Kinsella thank his brother and former drummer for letting his band, Joan of Arc, borrow the crowd that night. Though not at all a begrudging assertion for Kinsella, who, after 20 years leading Joan of Arc through 23 albums and a seemingly unrelenting pummeling by critics, has never been distressed by outside forces. Joan of Arc was in their element throughout the night, and as they began playing "The Hands" off of their 1997 debut, A Portable Model of…, a portion of the room was transported back to a time when the music they made was as polarizing as it was influential—and when the arguments about its place in the emo-sphere were just as loud. But while some of the crowd happily basked in the nostalgia of the early song, for Kinsella, it was just a quick nod to the beginning of a long and sometimes frustrating story.
Despite the overwhelming lack of critical support, Joan of Arc has always managed to edge out various levels of interest from a fluctuating fanbase, even 20 years after their debut album angered many critics and lit up message boards across the country. Wavering between art-rock, folk, and a mathy sound, this album tried to divert from the effective but uncomplicated so-called emo formula which Kinsella’s previous band Cap’n Jazz had perfected. But Cap’n Jazz’s legend and audience grew posthumously, and its diaspora was responsible for bands that had their own fame in the world of emo. The Promise Ring, American Football, and Ghosts & Vodka could all cite Cap’n Jazz as their genesis, and fans as well as the music media wouldn’t let anyone forget that. This would make it difficult for Kinsella to rinse the shadow of the scene he helped shape.
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