What happens when the big boys in punk earn their wings? In my experience their wings are clipped.
It’s a sad fact in our little corner of the music industry, you’re allowed to earn legendary status but you’re never allowed to eat at the banquet table. By all accounts Jawbreaker are every bit as deserving as their East Bay contemporaries Green Day in the punk rock hall of fame, but Fortuna’s rudder steered each into very different waters. Jawbreaker lived by the sword in their DIY ethos, and perhaps to their detriment, because whilst Billie Joe and Co cashed out and suffered the consequences early on, Jawbreaker’s turn in the spotlight dragged out a far greater wake.
Their absence has been felt.
With absence comes rust, and it would be unfair to dismiss the air of intrigue that lingered amongst the crowd in Kentish Town Forum, eagerly awaiting a band we all wanted to see a lot sooner. Looking around the crowd, I’m met with a great number of attendees in my own age bracket and I was just 6 years old when 24 Hour Revenge Therapy was released. It was the record that kicked off the entire genre (emo) that dominated my formative years. Could the old guard replicate the energy of their former selves? And, to make matters worse, they had enlisted the services of an energetic group of youths to support them.
You would have to forgive Beach Slang for their set tonight, it was their singer and guitarist James Alex’s birthday and it seems the band insisted he enjoyed himself tonight. What resulted was an honest reflection of the man. He’s good spirited and amusing, but still has a killer one liner locked and loaded when the opportunity arises. “When we start playing my hair looks like a member of The Bee Gees, but by the end of this song it looks like Johnny Thunders,” he reels off cuff, at first.
But when the song breaks down a few bars in he puts the quote back on the leash and parades it to the crowd once more, much to their amusement. At the end of the song he tells the audience “If Jack White and Harry Potter had a child it would look like me” and he’s not wrong.
Just before ending their set with a cover of The Pixies’ timeless classic Where Is My Mind? they took a minute to pull a friend on stage for a quick rendition of Ginuwine’s one hit Pony.
Despite the occasion, Beach Slang entertained greatly. Kentish Town Forum is never easy on support acts and they handled themselves admirably. But with a short turn around until the next date in Manchester my heart goes out to all who have to endure that hangover.
And so on to the main event. Spirits around Kentish Town had been high all day, the little pubs surrounding the venue were littered with the telltale marks of punks brought up through the era of hard tail skateboards and Chuck Taylor high tops. Men no more than skin and bones adorned with Bouncing Souls, Snuff, and Bad Religion shirts huddle around ashtrays laughing and embracing each other.
Just outside the door I see a girl in a tartan miniskirt and Doc Martens kneel down and pick up a flyer for another show as the house and stage lights drop and the crowd raise their collective voice beckoning Jawbreaker to the stage.
The cheering, and jeering, rises as do the stage lights, revealing the giant white letters of the name JAWBREAKER dominating the dark backdrop. The image is almost foreboding.
After a few waves to the wings and a nod to the sound desk the band dove straight into Save Your Generation and all around me voices chanted the words “If you could save yourself, you could save us all”. It’s a fitting introduction in London’s current climate of unrest socially, environmentally, and economically.
Soon after this, singer Blake Schwarzenbach informs the crowd that “it’s really good not being at the metal festival in Belgium” (Groezrock) In his signature sarcastic and somewhat droll tone, swiftly followed by another greatest hit The Boat Dreams From The Hill.
After a short pause the band played Chemistry from the ’95 record Dear You. I find it refreshing that the band have stuck to their guns all this time and still play songs from that album despite the impact the record had on their fans. It goes to show that the music will weather storms that politics simply cannot.
Next up, West Bay Invitational, another track from 24 Hour Revenge Therapy. The record turned 25 earlier this year and as expected the set is heavily stacked with songs from it.
Right after that come Chesterfield King from the band’s second album Bivouac, and Sluttering (May 4th). The seasoned Jawbreaker fan will notice a pattern forming, and should know why that is. Jawbreaker’s first big studio album Dear You is well known for Blake Schwarzenbach’s change in vocal style.
Shortly before the recording Blake was forced to undergo surgery on his throat, and afterwards had to adapt in order to continue. The rest of Jawbreaker’s catalogue employs a more raucous vocal sound, and the band appeared to be strategically placing tracks from Dear You to help ease the strain on Blake’s voice. A wise move.
Up until now the band have been somewhat rigid but the introduction of Condition Oakland, another prominent track in the band’s back catalogue, kicks new life into bass player Chris Bauermeister. Now feeling out the stage with true confidence, Blake leads the audience through the first verse “I rode down to the tracks thinking they might sing to me, but they just stared back broken, trainless and black as night”.
Ache, Jet Black, Parabola, and Accident Prone followed. By now the crowd were feeling their age. Surprisingly, the band had no intention of slowing down, launching into a cover of Thorns Of Life’s ‘Black Art’, before rounding out a long set with another firm fan favourite Shield Your Eyes.
Jawbreaker have been known to refuse to play an encore before. Mostly notably, one fan reported a thousand-strong crowd chanting the band’s name only to find Blake outside by the tour bus smoking a Chesterfield and smirking. I’d have to say that’s pretty punk in my mind, but then again who’s punk and what’s the score?
Despite the band’s history you’d be hard pressed to play your first show in London after 25 years and not play Boxcar, Jinx Removing, and Kiss The Bottle. And so that’s exactly what they did, and in that exact order.
It’s fair to say that the boys have retained their youthful hunger for the stage. That’s evident in the length of their set. They don’t short-change their fans, and they really seem to enjoy what they’re doing. The time apart clearly offered all an opportunity to reflect and return with something new – wisdom, perhaps.
Here’s hoping they return soon and say “Hello, and it’s goodbye again.”
Review of Jawbreaker at Kentish Town Forum on 27th April 2019 by Thom Bentley. Photography by Rachel Lipsitz.
Jawbreaker’s documentary plays in a selection of cinemas this month and is on sale on DVD from the band at shows.