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Jimmy Eat World shows it has a way with hits and hooks

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Special to The Times

Jimmy Eat World carries itself like a real headliner now, with flashing lights and a craggy backdrop made to look like Mars or Monument Valley or some other site of beautiful isolation. Nice to look at, but the band matters only when seeking connection on a human scale, finding melodic inspiration amid anger and crashing guitars.

Those moments came frequently but not nearly enough so at Jimmy Eat World’s concert at the Wiltern on Friday, singing edgy pop that was searching, hopeful and worthy of good Cheap Trick despite the “emo” label that has been attached to the Arizona quartet. The group dived into its 80-minute set with casual aggression, with wild slashing between verses.

There’s not a great variety to the band’s sound, despite the occasional ballad or dreamy passage. The delivery helped, with singer Jim Adkins twitching with his guitar in silhouette during the opening frenzy of “Bleed American.” Or later, when Adkins and guitarist Tom Linton sadly harmonized: “When the world caves in, what are you gonna do?” The hooks do seem to come easily, on the songs “The Middle” and the driving “Get It Faster,” and even some others from before the band’s self-titled breakthrough album of 2001. They roar with drama and somehow breathless and fresh takes on the usual pop-punk rhythms.

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Except that too many of the band’s nonhits lack that same catchy clarity. That’s when the band’s polish actually works against it, leaving lesser tunes tight but formless. Good thing they’ve got the hits.

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