Last night, I was lucky enough to see Jawbreaker, who reformed in April 2017, after a 21-year hiatus. They were supposed to play last year NJ but due to a hurricane that came though, the concert was rescheduled.
I paid $130 for a pair of tickets, got stuck with the second ticket, but no big deal… went with Patrick and his girlfriend. It was worth the $130, honestly. It was fucking Jawbreaker.
Pohgoh (Tampa, FL) opened the show… they were decent. Kind of like a more musically-simple Rocking Horse Winner (I still worship the Rocking Horse Winner… always will. Their first album is one of the best albums ever made). Pohgoh, too, disbanded in the mid/late-90s and reformed recently, did a new record with J. Robbins (Jawbox, and studio engineer extraordinaire), and got signed to a new label.
When I noticed the lead singer and rhythm guitarist sitting down the entire show, I thought she might be paralyzed from the waist down, or some other health issue. Later on I read that she’s been suffering from Multiple Sclerosis for 15+ years. Still, she killed it, vocally… even though her on-stage banter was, in a word, awkward. She was very nervous and self-critical. When she called out some millennial in the audience for being “too young” to remember the 90s scene, her guitar input jack broke and they had to start the song over. She then remarked that she shouldn’t have called out the kid, as it came back to bite her, in the result of her guitar breaking. I wouldn’t consider that as the reason, at all… but that’s how awkward the between-song banter was. Before one song, she told the story of a guy who was a prick, probably about her being in wheelchair…. the lyrics were pretty angsty and direct, and you could tell how much it hurt her, even if the incident happened years ago. The banter was definitely awkward, though.
If they just played and made a few jokes about the state of the country (being in front of a bunch of punks, who probably universally agree that Trump is a fucktard liar,) or praised Philly or Philly cheesesteaks in some way, I think the audience would have responded a bit more favorably. They were good, though. I’m sure when I give their albums a spin, I’ll dig them. Especially the new one produced by J. Robbins.
Next up was War On Women (Baltimore, MD). They were exhausting. Every song and banter in between was knocking on everything… transphobia, racism, rape culture, etc. I did like one of their songs which had the yelled hook… “Say It! Say It! Say It! I was raped!”…. but, I’m always a little less impressed when bands like this preach so heavily, in front of people who are already on board with the messages and morals (such as a largely mature/adult Jawbreaker/punk audience). If you really want to make an impact and change people from being ignorant fuckwits, try a calmer, rational approach, or a conversation with people at a Trump rally or something. One-on-one, the way that Ken from Free Hugs Project does. Or Chris from Special Books By Special Kids (SBSK). When you scream your opinions at people, it isn’t the best way to get them to change their minds. Because people like that just don’t ever change their minds. I love riot-grrl stuff (always have, I mean I was in high school when that awesome movement fully came about) but War On Women’s set (and the singer’s movements/stage presence) just seemed a bit too intense, a bit too… I don’t know… staged? And it was a bit much. The set was long and absolutely exhausting. I liked them, but would I go out of my way to listen to them on the regular? No. Pohgoh on the other hand, yes. I’m a sucker for melody and pretty-sounding stuff (duh).
Then, finally… after a decently long wait (what… 40 minutes after War On Women cleared the stage?) Jawbreaker hit. Put another checkmark on the bucket list.
What can I say, except utter fucking brilliance? Musical trio, but holy SHIT was it loud and powerful (as it should be)… Blake had two Marshall half-stacks on his side of the stage, Chris B. was playing a nice bass rig (Ampeg, from my memory) and a Fender Precision Bass. Man, did it sound powerful. Not to mention Adam Pfahler’s drums… thunderous, crisp, punchy. And then the guitars. The guitars just surrounded the venue. They were EVERYWHERE. Even the movie samples they sprinkled in (on the albums, and of course, at the show), were crystal-clear, and loud. And Blake sounded great. Dry vocal mix… tight. Everything was tight. Everything sounded amazing.
They covered their discography completely… and even did “Kiss The Bottle” from Etc. (the b-sides collection). Patrick and I covered “First Step” (from Etc.) at a few Seldom Family shows in early 2018.
They played “Want” from Unfun… which was great as I didn’t expect to hear anything from Unfun. They played a handful of songs from Bivouac which was so nice to hear as it’s such an underrated album and defined the Jawbreaker sound, from then on. And of course, they tackled some songs from 24 Hour Revenge Therapy (the anthem “Boxcar” which was the first encore song, and the one which the whole audience sang along to)… and my all-time favorite, Dear You (anyone who doesn’t agree that Dear You is fucking brilliant is a fucking idiot… shame on all the punks who turned on Jawbreaker after they signed to Geffen and opened for Nirvana. Looking back, isn’t that a pretty fucking great thing? Yes. It was).
From Dear You, they played “Save Your Generation”, “Chemistry”, “Accident Prone”, “Sluttering (May 4th)” and “Jet Black”. I would have loved to hear “Fireman”, “I Love You So Much It’s Killing Us Both”, and “Bad Scene, Everyone’s Fault” but ah well…. maybe next time.
Flawless show, though. I can die happy.
At first I thought the huge banner behind them was tacky but as I was singing along to all those songs, I was like “yep. It’s fuckin’ Jawbreaker, man. Blake, our poetic lyricist cult hero.” The banner was justified. And it was also probably a “fuck you” to all the punks who turned on them in 1995.
I’ve always been a HUGE fan of Blake Schwarzenbach’s writing. I was lucky enough to see Jets to Brazil twice… in summer 2002 (only caught 4 songs since we were so late to the show which was 3.5 hours away in Orlando, FL), and then on June 2nd, 2003 at the Orpheum in Tampa, FL (their second-to-last show ever, from my memory). I was able to meet Blake and get a photo with him, then. I miss Jets to Brazil, a lot. But, I’m so glad Jawbreaker reunited.
One more thing… I need to see that damn Jawbreaker documentary. It’s so hard to find online… and random local showings happen at the last-minute…. I really hope it gets the proper DVD release it so deserves.
All in a all…. I consider the night a complete win. Fucking brilliant. I hope Blake considers a Jets to Brazil reunion in the future, too. Hell… being in multiple bands seems to be the norm these days… look at Phoebe Bridgers‘ skyrocketing career (solo, with boygenius, and now with Better Oblivion Community Center).
Jawbreaker fucking rules, man. And I should mention that when I saw Julien Baker in 2016, I wore my Dear You shirt. She commented “I love your shirt!!!”. And she’s done a brilliant piano cover of “Accident Prone”.
Jawbreaker love spreads wide, I tell you.