From the moment Jawbox announced their three night residency in New York, I was beyond excited. The news came in January and was a great way to kick off 2022; I immediately marked the dates in my brand new datebook for the year. When the shows finally arrived, not even the blistering heat wave that had settled down on the city could stifle my excitement.
You see, there are bands I enjoy, even love, and then there’s bands like Jawbox, where it goes well beyond them having some songs I really like or relate to—it’s a much deeper love than that. I discovered this band in my late teens and really grew into my own as a young adult with their music as the soundtrack. I got through my first real heartbreak in 1999 listening to Jawbox on repeat (and Mission: Control! by Burning Airlines), the intensity of my emotions matched by the urgency of songs like “Livid” and “Desert Sea.” I then spent the summer of 2001 listening to almost nothing else but For Your Own Special Sweetheart, the last vestiges of my youth playing out to those songs, right before the final bit of innocence I had left was stripped away by 9/11. So yes, there are A LOT of memories for me with this band.
When Jawbox first reunited in 2019, it really was like a dream come true. They were one of those bands I just never thought I’d see because I was just a shade too young in the 90s to have seen them live. I also discovered them a hair too late, first listening to them in 1998, a year after they initially broke up. I received a dubbed copy of Novelty from a friend who made zines at the time; we traded zines and tapes often, and he was a few years older so had more access to shows and better taste than me, so I always took his recommendations seriously.
When I heard the opening ring of the guitars on “Cutoff,” I immediately was intrigued and very quickly fell in love as the tape progressed through the album. I started grabbing up whatever copies of albums and 7 inches I could find in my travels, over time building up to having their entire discography in various formats. I still own all of the vinyl today, lovingly carted from one side of the country to the other and through various apartments in New Jersey and New York over the years (the CDs and tapes long ago got scratched/worn out/lost).
“Motorist” b/w “Jackpot Plus!” Dischord 77. This record came out in 1993 and features earlier recordings of these two songs that are different from what would ultimately be on the For Your Own Special Sweetheart LP. The music is almost the same but the vocal takes are much more raw. The cover photo was taken by Mark Waters and I used to stare at it and wish I’d taken something this cool.
J. Robbins also made specific reference to this record on night one when speaking about “Motorist,” and wrote a note to himself to remember which catalog number it was.
While my love for the band calcified early on, and I spent the next two decades loving them, I was still always more than a little bummed that I never got to see them. So I’m not exaggerating when I say that these reunion shows (see my 2019 pics from Boston) and particularly this residency, have really meant the world to me and many other fans around my age—in our early to mid 40s now but teenagers during the height of the band’s 90s career, many of us unable to see them back then.
Susie Ulrey, singer/guitarist of Pohgoh, is just a few years older than me and had a similar experience in the 90s. She flew to New York specially for the shows with her husband Keith (also a member of Pohgoh and proprietor of New Granada Records) and said “What an incredible opportunity to immerse myself in the Jawbox catalog for three nights in a row. I was too young to get to any of the shows for the first three records and I’m racking my brain to remember how I missed them in ‘96 at The Sapphire Supper Club in Orlando.” These shows clearly meant so much to the fans who came out for them, a chance for many of us to make up for what we missed as teenagers.
In structuring the three nights, the band focused on a different era of their career each night, saying at the time of the initial announcement “Jawbox formed in its first iteration in 1989. In the long history of this band, a 3-night residency is one thing we never imagined we might do. In our 2019 rededication, we were excited to play some much bigger venues than we ever had before, but smaller venues still feel best.” Indeed, LPR really lent itself to a very intimate feel for the fans and band alike, a low stage and no barriers making it easy for everyone to feel connected. Bassist Kim Coletta told me after the shows that LPR had been behind the idea and approached the band initially “The idea for all of this came from LPR, not us!”
She went on to say of the planning process: “We spent a lot of time discussing how to tackle the residency, as LPR let us decide how to best approach it. We had some initial thoughts but they just didn’t seem like us. We can’t pull off flashy or gimmicky at all! We didn’t want to play any of the records in their entirety, as some of those songs just don’t make the cut anymore. We finally hit upon the idea of approaching it in eras, while not being totally bound to playing just songs from that era. It was a surprising amount of prep and practice times to get ready for those shows, as we added about ten new-old songs to the set. Also, the songs from Grippe were written with just one guitar, so Brooks Harlan had some extra work with inventing additional guitar parts.”
While I was present for all three shows, and thus got to take it all in, I did really appreciate the idea of “eras” and that they kept it fluid, putting in the favorites and heavy hitters each night so that those who could only be at one show could still get to hear songs like “Savory,” (which was actually written and first recorded at the end of the Dischord era before they were signed to Atlantic Records) and their iconic cover of Tori Amos’ “Cornflake Girl”; it shows their level of care for their fans and dedication to their experience. When I asked Coletta if she had a favorite era she told me “I’m not sure I have a favorite era, although I do like that we evolved as songwriters.” The path through their growth was mapped very well as the three nights played out, moving from one period to the next, showing how different things emerged in their songwriting as they progressed as a band.
Jawbox at LPR
For its part, the band looked and played like they were absolutely thrilled to be there each night; their genuine joy at performing these songs for the fans was obvious and radiant. Coletta was in the center of the stage, bouncing and bopping around gleefully for each set, often coming to the edge of the stage to play right to the crowd. She was flanked on either side by singer/guitarist J. Robbins and guitarist/singer Brooks Harlan (also of War On Women), who joined the band in 2021, replacing longtime guitarist Bill Barbot after he moved to Vermont. Harlan had some big shoes to fill, but he fit in seamlessly and even quipped at one point that he felt like Mark Wahlberg’s character in Rock Star because he got to join his favorite band. He and Robbins have been frequent collaborators in projects like Office of Future Plans and in Robbins’ solo work, so their interplay was natural and effortless. And of course Robbins’ signature tenor anchored the complexity of the guitar work and shone throughout the night, hitting every high and low and snarl and yell.
“Cornflake Girl” live in London 6/9/22, Brooks Harlan nailing the falsetto perfectly
Zach Barocas is a commanding presence behind the kit and he is hands down one of the most creative drummers of the post hardcore 90s, with a technical prowess that few others have come close to achieving, even today. And let me tell you, being able to see a drummer of that caliber play up close was a joy and incredible to watch for a fellow drummer (and a realization I need to practice more). It’s something I think I was too overwhelmed to do the first time I saw them in 2019 but this time I was able to hone in more on his playing and picked specific songs to zero in on each night.
Barocas’ drumming really is in a class by itself, there’s no denying that, and he deftly hit all of the early songs (which were performed by original drummer Adam Wade on Grippe and Novelty) and attacked the more complex songs from his work on Sweetheart and Jawbox with ease, hitting fill and odd time with precision. The rhythmic give and take between Barocas and Coletta is remarkable as well, a truly interconnected rhythm section that plays perfectly off one another—at times locked together with booming staccato effect and at others playing counter rhythms off each other, truly the heart that holds the band together while the guitars and vocals soar brightly above them.
Over the course of three nights, there were so many highlights, it’s hard to pick just a few. Even with omitting songs from each album, they still played so many I wanted to hear. Several had not been performed since the 90s, tracks like “Send Down,” “Cruel Swing,” “Ones & Zeros” and “U Trau,” which were all received enthusiastically by the audience. Other absolute standout moments definitely include the fervent vocal plea of “I don’t believe!” in “Mirrorful,” which also features some of my favorite Jawbox lyrics “Righteousness, Blazes back, Twist the past, And reward the arrogance” ; to the wild 16th note controlled chaos of Baracos’ drumming on “Won’t Come Off” (I stared at his hands the entire song, trying to decode the masterful way he seemed to be everywhere all at once). “Chicago Piano,” and “Reel,” also both feature some of my favorite drum parts on Sweatheart and I loved getting to see these played again.
I went in happy to hear whatever they chose to play, and I was just continually wowed, song after song. And while I knew they weren’t going to play full albums, there were definitely songs I hoped for, getting to hear many of them. I had very much hoped to hear “Spit Bite” which is my favorite track on Novelty but this was one of the songs they unfortunately passed on. “Static,” and “Cutoff” certainly made up for some of that mild disappointment though.
“Reel” live in Washington DC 7/23/22, one day after the residency
I was perhaps most thrilled that they played “Motorist” each night as it is my favorite song on Sweetheart. Chills shot down my spine at the declaration/question “I know you never grasped the possibilities, What would you risk to rescue me?” And of course hearing them close with their best known song, the well loved “Savory,” every night was the cherry on top of each setlist. Aside from the music, I also loved getting to hear the stories about some of the songs and of past shows/tours with the members of the opening acts, either from their time in earlier bands or their current ones.
“Motorist” and “Jackpot Plus!” live in Washington DC 7/23/22, one day after the residency
And speaking of the openers, each night was different and all had long history with Jawbox. Night one saw SAVAK, which features Sohrab Habibion on guitar and vocals. He was once a member of Edsel and J. Robbins had much praise for and many stories about him, sharing that when they lived together in the late 80s “Sohrab had all the cool records and always did his dishes.” James Canty, younger brother of Fugazi drummer Brendan Canty, was behind the kit and has plenty of his own history with Jawbox. Night two was Versus, who I always appreciate getting a chance to see (and who I really should spend more individual time with their records). Ted Leo was up on night three, and he played a wonderful solo set delighting some fans up front who seemingly came just for him. All were wonderful pairings and made for a great extra bonus to each show.
“Savory” by Jawbox, “Penaluna” by Edsel split 7″ J. Robbins joked on night one that they could play “Savory” that night because it had actually been first released on this 7″ in 1993 when they were still in the Dischord era, a year prior to it being included on Sweetheart. This is a different recording that what was on the later album.
A career spanning residency truly is a unique thing for a band to do, a lot of work and commitment and certainly not easy. Which is why you don’t see them happen all the time and why it’s all the more special when a band can so seamlessly pull it off. Coletta said they aren’t sure that they will repeat this again in other cities, so this may have been the one shot to have seen it; I am so very glad I was able to be there. When I asked her how she and the band felt about the shows afterwards she said “We feel like the shows went really well. The audience was great, and they had a wonderful and positive energy. Everyone at LPR was great and treated us really well.”
“Savory” and “Cut Off” live in Baltimore 3/12/2022
From the audience perspective, it truly was just an incredible way to dig deep into a band that has meant so much to me and so many others, and it was emotional to just lose myself a bit as the songs radiated through me. Keith Ulrey, who first saw the band play in 1990, said “As a long time fan of all things Jawbox, seeing them celebrate their entire legacy in one fell swoop was mind blowing. There was almost a sense of honor being humbly present for the three night residency. I don’t know when I’ll have that feeling again.” Dave Diem, bassist of LAPÊCHE, echoed this saying “It is always so great to see them live. They bring sincere joy to what they do. It makes me feel part of something, interconnected.” I couldn’t agree more with both of these sentiments.
These shows were each individually amazing to witness. Collectively, the residency taken as a whole was such an exceptional thing to witness and be a part of. I couldn’t ask for a better band to have experienced something like this with.
Scroll down for pics of the shows, setlists, and more video from Washington DC (photos by Kate Hoos)
Setlist night one “Dischord Era”: Cutoff, Tracking, Dreamless, Consolation Prize, Grip, Ones and Zeros, Sent Down, Lowdown (Wire cover), Static, Motorist, Tongues, Bullet Park, Tools, Jackpot Plus!, FF=66, Green Glass, Mirrorful, Cooling Card, Nickel Nickel Millionaire, Savory Encore: 68, Cornflake Girl (Tori Amos cover)
Setlist night two “Sweetheart Era”: FF=66, 68, U Trau, Reel, Cooling Card, Static, Cutoff, Grip, Consolation Prize, Lowdown (Wire cover), Iodine, Cruel Swing, Jackpot Plus!, Motorist, Livid, Desert Sea, Spoiler, Green Glass, Chicago Piano, Send Down, Savory Encore: Absenter, Cornflake Girl
Setlist night three “Self-titled Era” Mirrorful, Nickel Nickel Millionaire, Desert Sea, Chinese Fork Tie, Spoiler, Iodine, Tongues, Livid, Absenter, Under Glass, Won’t Come Off, Cornflake Girl (Tori Amos cover), Ones and Zeros, Grip, Consolation Prize, Lowdown (Wire cover), Reel, U-Trau, Static, Savory Encore: Motorist, Jackpot Plus!
Jawbox- Full Set 7/23/22 in Washington, DC
JAWBOX (night one)
JAWBOX (night two)
JAWBOX (night three)