Before it was emo it was emocore, and before that, emotional hardcore. Somewhere in that initial compression came Cap’n Jazz, a band of relatively clean-cut Chicago teenagers making ragged music, hardcore molting its skin to let a little of the inner hurt peek through.
On Sunday evening at Brooklyn Bowl the band members returned, briefly, as reunited champions of a scene that hadn’t yet coalesced when it disbanded, after one album and several singles, in 1995.
Almost the entire catalog of Cap’n Jazz — the singer Tim Kinsella, his brother, the drummer Mike Kinsella, the guitarists Davey von Bohlen and Victor Villareal, and the bass player Sam Zurick — is collected on the compilation “Analphabetapolothology” (Jade Tree). It’s an intense, sometimes clunky listen, but the songs are charged. After the group split up, its members went on to more coherent and more popular bands — the brothers Kinsella and Mr. Zurick in Joan of Arc, Mr. von Bohlen in the Promise Ring.
Now nearly middle aged, they happily played the songs of agitated teenagers, mostly not bothering to clean up the attitude, or the sound. Tim Kinsella brought out his French horn early in the first song, “Basil’s Kite,” abusing it as usual. A minute or so later Mike Kinsella broke his snare drum. (The same thing happened at one of the band’s reunion shows in Chicago earlier this month, according to reports.) On the next song Tim leaned out into the crowd, lost the microphone to someone who took the opportunity to sing some of the lyrics, then pulled it back by its cord, eyebrow arched.
That level of amused chaos persisted through the riotous show, which was part of the Jelly NYC Pool Parties. Undone by rain at its original outdoor location in East River Park, it was hastily relocated to Brooklyn Bowl.
It was a purposeful mess, onstage and off. Tim Kinsella’s scraped singing is still a rush, even though his naïve delivery, as seen in YouTube clips of the band’s early years, has given way to wryness. Mr. von Bohlen is still a sparkplug, chipping in with howling vocals from time to time. Often, it seemed as if things might fall apart if not for Mike Kinsella, an authoritarian behind his drum kit.
The show was one of a dozen reunion shows the band has scheduled. (Sunday was a big day in Williamsburg for mid-’90s hardcore. Death By Audio hosted one of a handful of reunion shows of the Baltimore band Universal Order of Armageddon.) But this was not a slick affair. By the time the band played “Tokyo,” Tim Kinsella was reading off a lyric sheet, which he did throughout the rote, shouty cover of A-Ha’s “Take on Me” that used to be a band staple (though not as funny as the mopey “Theme to ?°»90210,’ ” which would have been a timelier, and more clever, choice).
For most of the night he had been fighting off a steady stream of fans making their way to the stage by riding the crowd, sometimes pushing them back into the mob and once singing for a bit while grabbing the ankle of an inverted crowd-surfer. He seemed to be having less fun than they were. Inhabiting your former self can be hard work.
After “Little League” he bopped a reveler on the head with his tambourine. “That wasn’t an act of aggression,” he insisted to the crowd, not quite convincingly. “That was an act of solidarity.”