When Blake Schwarzenbach of Jawbreaker said at some point during that band’s set said something about how this is probably the punk tour of the year it seemed obvious. Even if one were inclined to contrarian impulses the fact that it was Jawbox headlining a bill that included Samiam, Face to Face and Descendents makes that more challenging to refute.
Samiam started very early in the evening around 6:30 p.m. and its melodic punk sound had some unexpected grit to it live. There was an underlying catharsis of personal pain and loss the seemed to inform the songs and upon closer listen songs like “Dull” and “Capsized” in the set list hit hard and heavy yet in doing so made the need to make music to uplift without trivializing those feelings so urgent in a way that translated directly to the live performance.
Face to Face’s own anthemic punk while not as gritty as that of Samiam before them sure delved into topics deeper than one might expect from a band that is so closely associated with pop punk. But its songs exploring personal integrity and the core meaningfulness of life informed by a self-effacing humor and poetic insight were undeniably effective. “Walk the Walk” and “It’s Not Over” really made that obvious and how Face To Face injects some inventive guitar work into a style of music that can be a bit predictable three decades in. Trever Keith also gets points for throwing some friendly shade in saying how he enjoyed his Dodgers handling “your Rockies.” Fortunately people laughed and didn’t take the comment too seriously.
Descendents walked on stage and without a lot of preamble launched the set with “Everything Sux” like the legends of the whole pop punk world they are. Although there was a spirited joyfulness to the Descendents’ performance and they performed silly songs like “Wienerschnitzel” what became very apparent from the live show is how this music makes life’s everyday problems and struggles seem manageable by humanizing them, by pointing out the humor value and poignancy of it all even when it feels its most painful. Setting those moments of peak emotional turmoil to energetic and tuneful punk songs fortifies the mind. While it may not be saying it’s all going to be okay or something unrealistic like that it at least suggests these experiences don’t have to sink you and that has been an important thing to hear for years and even now which is part of why Descendents and the bands it influenced remain resonant and relevant. And it wasn’t all songs about being a young, angsty person, and material like “Global Probing,” “Clean Sheets” and “When I Get Old” transcend the adolescent mindset while staying rooted in a spirit of youthful exuberance and a willingness to feel all those feelings and not hide from them in the name of growing up. Like burying your emotions just because you reached a certain age or have a “real” job and a mortgage and marriage really worked for anyone anyway.
After Jawbreaker split in 1996 its cult following seemed to increasingly expand for over twenty years. Its anthemic pop punk songs infused with literary yet accessible lyrics found a wide audience among fans of pop punk but follow the creative threads even from its debut album Unfun and there’s more thoughtfulness, inventive guitar work and unconventional rhythms than one might expect given its general legacy as one of the star bands of 90s pop punk. And live the sharper edges of the music and its more experimental instincts were starkly obvious. The infectious melodies and emotionally vulnerable vocals that have made it a massive influence on emo were there to be sure. One was struck by how much The Clash probably influenced the songwriting not to mention an obvious inspiration like Descendents. But in its most stretching out past the boundaries of standard punk moments, when the band engaged in noisy soundscapes mid-song or near the end it felt like getting to see a Steve Albini band though more Shellac than Big Black. It had that combination of focused intensity and wildness that you don’t hear in much punk that got too popular. And that’s when Jawbreaker was at its most exciting from a musical standpoint.
For just three guys on stage Jawbreaker unleashed a lot of energy all while maintaining a stance of self-deprecating irreverence that you’d hope to hear. If you include the encore the set consisted of almost all of Dear You with some choice tracks from 24 Hour Revenge Therapy thrown in (“Boxcar,” “Condition Oakland” and “Jinx Removing”) and before performing “Basilica” to close out the show, Schwarzenbach told us something like how they would leave us with one last psychedelic mindfuck to take with us before retreating to the comfort of our everyday abodes. Given the extravagant sonic freakout that blazed out the show, at least the band delivered as it did the entire performance.