The reunion of Cap'n Jazz isn't getting the headlines Pavement has been showered with this summer, but for a lot of people — namely those who cherish the great Midwestern emo boom of the mid-'90s — it is an even more significant turn of indie-rock events. And equally improbable. Featuring members who went on to play in outfits like the Promise Ring, Joan of Arc, Owls, Make Believe, and Ghosts and Vodka, Cap'n Jazz burned out instead of fading away, breaking up in 1995 while touring in support of its first and only studio album, an exhaustingly titled disc better known as Shmap'n Shmazz. It was guitarist Victor Villareal's mishap with pills on a drive from St. Louis to Little Rock that finally broke up the band.
"Victor was kind of one foot in, one foot out all the time — really typical of the person who is 10 times more talented than anyone else in the band," says guitarist Davey VonBohlen, who joined the group after it split up briefly in early 1994. He later fronted the Promise Ring and now plays with Maritime. "In hindsight, it had blown up pretty much at the best time, but basically he overdosed, which made sense, 'cause we were teenagers and not really realizing that we were dealing with what would become an addict," VonBohlen says. "it sort of just came to a head there, and I think that was sort of the end, when we realized he/we've got gigantic problems, and we're just teenagers and this is not worth this."
Though the guys went on to play with each other in most of those posthumous projects — the short-lived Owls included all four original members: Villareal (who these days is "healthier than I am," VonBohlen reports), vocalist Tim Kinsella, drummer Mike Kinsella, and bassist Sam Zurick — it wasn't until a performance in January at Joan of Arc's Don't Mind Control Variety Show that the Cap'n was placed back in his chair. And it took only four songs at Chicago's Empty Bottle for the guys to get their sea legs and turn the whole thing into a full-blown reunion, albeit one with a limited shelf life and no plans to write new songs. When Cap'n Jazz gets to Bimbo's this week — the band's first-ever West Coast gig — it will have only a handful of shows under its rebuckled belt, and VonBohlen says the group will probably end up playing around 13 dates.
"I think once you get over the baker's dozen, you're just baking," he says . "I would love to hear what sort of music after 15 years of this we would make, but I don't think that's in the cards. We're all in other bands, and this is stepping on those feet. We also have personal lives and some of us are parents, and it becomes a really big ordeal to drag on those things for too long. The world has its own plan, but it's not our goal to be in this band."
Recent accounts have predictably featured quite a bit of gushing from reviewers getting their first live taste of the influential post-hardcore outfit, and it comes as no surprise that the grown-up version of the band is tighter than the one composed of teenagers. VonBohlen says dusting off spastic gems like "Little League" and "In the Clear" —now found on the double-disc anthology Analphabetapolothology, recently issued on vinyl for the first time — has been rewarding for more than just nostalgic reasons.
"It's definitely satisfying creatively," he says. "You don't really get a chance to go back and try and have any sort of weird interactions with your former self. Trying to relearn the songs and figure out how they were built was a very odd thing to do, and that was a really fun thing to do, like, 'What would I have done if I were me 15 years ago?' You kind of forget everything in the past of how you became you."
VonBohlen is already familiar with revisiting his emo past, having played a one-off with the Promise Ring in 2005, and admits that he has "stopped saying never" about that band getting back together. But for now he's just happy to be giving Cap'n Jazz songs their due.
"The band sort of felt like it ended tragically, so it's nice to be able to have the last word," he says. "It just feels good to be able to have a positive finish to all this."