Jawbreaker is currently on tour to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their final album, Dear You, released in September 1995 (the tour was delayed by two years because of you-know-what), and they kicked off the first of four sold out shows in New York last night, the room packed with devoted fans of all ages. And like every single person in that room, Jawbreaker is a band that has meant so much to me over the years, one that I have spent countless hours listening to. I’m right in that weird nebulous “old enough to have been listening to them in the 90s” but “a shade too young to have seen them in the 90s” age range, so the reunion tours that they have done over the last several years have been so wonderful for all the fans my age who just missed them when we were kids, and those younger than that. I’d seen them twice before in 2019 and both times were great, but something about this one just hit different; it turned out to be a very emotional and magical evening for me.
Unlike Jawbreaker fans who are older than me (I’m 41 so those in their mid to late 40s and up), Dear You was my first exposure to the band. I don’t have a cool “I saw them in a DIY space in 91!” story, but I do have a lot of strong and wonderful memories of finding myself as a kid and young adult to their music. The first time I heard them was sometime in 1996 when I was 15 years old, watching 120 Minutes when the video for “Fireman” came on. I immediately loved what I was hearing, so I wrote down the band and album name on a piece of paper and started bugging my mom to take me to the record store so I could find the CD. I had no idea then that that purchase would change so much for me and become a musical cornerstone in my life or that I’d still be listening—and sometimes crying along—to this band 26 years down the line.
Up until that point I was more of a grunge and alt-head, as one was in those days if you were 15 and into rock music, but Dear You showed me that much more nuance was possible with the rock format, and it also opened up a door into the world of even more underground bands to explore via liner notes, zines and nascent music websites when I would get the irregular opportunity to get internet access. (This door had been cracked open by Nirvana and Green Day, but bands like Jawbreaker, Sleater-Kinney and Bikini Kill kicked it off the hinges.)
I had started playing drums around the time I discovered Jawbreaker too, and I remember working so hard to learn the drum parts on that album in particular, because they weren’t easy for newbie, and I felt so accomplished every time I mastered a song. I also had a (terrible) zine in high school, each issue came complete with a special “Jawbreaker page” where I would gush about the band and make collages of pictures I was able to find in bigger magazines or if I’d managed to sneak some internet time at school.
Clearly I have a lot of emotions and memories tied up in this band, and I could keep going with a lot more anecdotes, but suffice it to say, being able to see Jawbreaker play the entire album all these years later was very special to me. Before the show I kept away from setlists online so I would be surprised on what other material they were including, but had been wondering if they would play the album in order or not, and had been expecting that. So when they took the stage I was prepared to hear the opening notes of “Save Your Generation,” but it turned out they mixed things up to keep people guessing throughout the night. Instead they started off with “I Love You So Much It’s Killing Us Both,” before heading into “Chemistry” and then dipping completely out of the album to play another big favorite, “The Boat Dreams from the Hill,” from 1994’s 24 Hour Revenge Therapy.
The fans didn’t seem to mind what the order was as long as they got to hear the songs they know and love so much and while I do generally like to hear full albums played in order, in the end I just wanted to hear those songs and sing my heart out so I was fine with whatever way they wanted to structure the setlist. I found myself getting particularly emotional during “Chemistry,” and even teared up for a minute—not because it’s one of their overly emotional songs—but rather because of my own memories of bashing away on my crappy starter drumkit in my parent’s basement and pushing myself to get it right, trying to perfectly match what was on the album; it turned out to be one of the first songs I was really able to execute with any kind of skill.
They continued with more songs from Dear You, hitting the entirety of the album except for “Lurker II: Dark Son of Night” (which was another drumming favorite from my youth, though I suspect the omission had more to do with the lyrical content not aging well, as they don’t appear to have been playing it at all on the tour) and “Unlisted,” (which was cut after they ran out of time). Every few songs they would throw in things from other albums, mostly from 24, but they also included the intense and broody “Parabola” from Bivouac near the end of the set.
Frontman Blake Schwarzenbach had plenty of witty stage banter, telling opening comedian Chris Gethard “watch out Gethard!” Just before kicking into “Basilica,” he quipped that the “first wave of weed just drifted to the stage and good timing my friend because things are about to get dark and scary. You probably thought ‘they’re gonna go for Boxcar’ but oooooh nooo.” Keeping with the dark vibe, they followed that with “Jet Black,” the crowd cheering at the opening sample from Annie Hall: “I tell you this because as an artist I think you’ll understand…”
Several songs later “Boxcar” did make its appearance much to the delight of everyone in the room and the crowd sang along with wild abandon. In fact the audience sang along to every single song, never missing a beat or a word along the way. And when the end of the set arrived, yells and cheers for an encore rang out, people not seeming to believe the show was over for several minutes after the band left the stage. (They ran out of time before the sound curfew and had to cut two songs from the original setlist, “Unlisted” and “Kiss The Bottle.”)
I was also very happy after the set to get a few moments to speak to drummer Adam Pfahler and to tell him how much seeing him play meant to me, that I had indeed learned to play drums largely by playing along to this album. It was nice to be able to thank him for teaching me even when he didn’t know he was. He was kind and gracious with me and with several other fans he was interacting with after the show too.
And as if seeing Jawbreaker wasn’t already great, they have had some incredible openers all throughout this tour, and the NYC audience was treated to sets by Worriers and The Linda Lindas for night one (and for night two; Shellshag will replace Worriers for nights three and four). I was particularly struck by this because many of the other openers were contemporaries of the band in the 90s (Jawbox, Team Dresch, Samiam, Descendents), but these are two bands that can draw a direct line back to the inspiration of Jawbreaker. Particularly Worriers, who have a lot of that classic 90s emo/pop punk sound to them, so I felt it was very fitting and exciting to have these bands on the show for a full circle moment—Gen X to Millennial to Gen Z bands—keeping the punk cycle of life going.
Worriers’ singer/guitarist Lauren Denitzio remarked that the band had put out a full length in 2020 “which sounds like a joke but it’s real,” going on to say that this was their first hometown show since the album release and that if you had told them their first hometown show back would be with Jawbreaker they’d have called you “out of your fucking mind.” This was obviously a show that meant just as much to the opening bands as it did to the fans.
The Linda Lindas
I was over the moon to get to see The Linda Lindas who have been receiving a lot of attention in the last year or so, every bit of it well deserved. This was their first show in New York and in fact their first show outside of California. They powered through a set of 11 super catchy pop punk/riot grrrl inspired songs, and had plenty of charming and endearing stage banter, talking about how they were so excited to be in New York for the first time and that “Adam said his uncle once took him to New York and it changed his life. Now Jawbreaker are the uncles changing lives.”
Singer/guitarist Lucia also recounted that the band was doing their homework that morning before the show and asked the audience at one point “who has school tomorrow?” before quickly amending to, “I mean work,” when she realized she was speaking to a room of people a lot older than the band. The whole audience was enraptured with their performance which they concluding with the viral hit “Racist, Sexist Boy,” the song being met with elated cheers from the audience. I hope that awful boy is somewhere eating his words right now (and more importantly learning to better himself), while these young super stars continue on their rise.
This was a special night for so many, both onstage and those in the audience. Hearing (almost) all of the songs from Dear You played live was something I waited over two decades for, so I will not soon forget it or how it made me feel. Listening to that album always has and always will feel like coming home, seeing/hearing the songs played live after all this time felt even better than that.
Jawbreaker setlist: I Love You So Much It’s Killing Us Both, Chemistry, The Boat Dreams from the Hill, Save Your Generation, Fireman, Basilica, Jet Black, Condition Oakland, Million, Bad Scene Everyone’s Fault, Boxcar, Oyster, Sluttering (May 4th), Parabola, Accident Prone, Want
Scroll down for more pics of the show (photos by Kate Hoos)