Each of us develop our own methods for managing bouts of depression. So, on August 4th, 2017, I biked 2.1 miles to Raisu Sushi in Chicago and blew $150 on an Omakase dinner, to eat away a first world problem.
Earlier that day, burned by my very own peers, I failed to secure a ticket to San Francisco’s Rickshaw Stop in order to gain entrance to Jawbreaker’s first public performance in 21 years. Rather than staring longingly at a confirmation email from Eventbrite, I obsessively scrolled through my Facebook feed, making new enemies out of old friends who were gloating about the speed in which they could click through a checkout process and how fast their internet connection must be as they shared screenshots of the very confirmation email that I expected to receive. It was then that I starting looking into fiber optic internet rates. I would later be told by a former Ticketfly employee and close friend that even the amount of time it takes to change the ticket quantity could be the difference between a successful purchase and an Omakase dinner.
My motivation wasn’t necessary fueled by being one of the first to see them reunited; I had already secured a ticket to Riot Fest. I’ve also been very privileged to see all three of singer Blake Schwarzenbach’s post-Jawbreaker endeavors several times. But given the choice to see this coveted band that helped shape my taste and perspective over the last 24 years, Rickshaw Stop, with it’s modest capacity of 400, is just kind of what I wanted.
I’ve been eating very well since then.
On the evening of January 8th, 2018, I received a text message from another close friend who informed me that I was going to get another opportunity to have my dreams shattered. But this time, I was in DC for work with lightning fast internet and newfound hope. I was informed that tickets would go on sale the following morning for two more Jawbreaker shows at San Francisco’s The Bottom of The Hill and Great American Music Hall.
That morning, as my hands shook at the rate generally reserved for the day after a 3-day binge, I was logged on to The Bottom Of The Hill’s website with my credit card number saved to my clipboard. The clock struck 1:00 PM EST and with just one click of the reload button, the purchase link was revealed. I remembered what my friend said about adjusting the ticket quantity so I ignored that option. I surrendered my personal information and with a single click, my faith was restored. All of August’s resentment faded away. As I looked longingly at my confirmation email, I almost considered sending apology messages to all the friends I secretly ceased to love for having previously been afforded this same opportunity. Instead, I marched straight to Michelin-Starred Sushi Taro in Downtown DC and ordered an Omakase lunch.
I landed in San Francisco at 8:23 AM on Saturday, January 13th, grateful for the drooling slumber the four hour flight afforded me. Just seven hours before I landed, I was stumbling out of seeing The Flatliners in Chicago and forcing myself to stay awake before my red eye flight from O’Hare. At 8:23 AM, it was just four and half hours from the time Bottom Of The Hill would open its doors for this matinee performance.
Two poos, a pupu platter, and two beers later, I arrived at the show. Greeted by a line of mostly strangers, Matthew (our photographer), Marshall (our friend), and I shuffled into the venue. As advertised, it did not feel as if the venue had oversold it’s 246 person capacity. It was surreal knowing that I was about to see the same band I saw just a few months ago when they played to a crowd of at least 10,000 people.
Forty-five minutes later, the show’s only opener, Smokers, began their set. I was happy to discover that this band features both the bassist and drummer from the fantastic East Bay punk band, Black Fork. Having never heard Smokers before, I found them to be reliable in the sense that the tempo was consistent across the set and that it felt familiar. Despite being a newer band, it’s made up of East Bay punk veterans so it felt as though I was seeing a band from my youth that had also reunited.
As if my alarm clock had rung, the last note of Smokers’ last song signaled that it was time to clear a path through the crowd and rightfully position myself at front center stage. The seas easily parted until I reached a beanstalk-lengthed man, but he kindly offered to step aside so I could squeeze in front of him. A young woman in front of me, who stood only a few inches above me, preemptively apologized if the bobbing of her head might block my view. She encouraged me to alert her if she became a distraction. In fact, throughout the duration of Jawbreaker’s set, I was able to leave my front center stage spot twice, then easily re-position myself. This audience was so accommodating that it was almost off-putting and I would soon discover that I wasn’t the only person that had difficulty parsing such a well and mild-mannered spectatorship.
Jawbreaker finally took the stage and – like a spotlight – the setlist gleamed on a red, stained stage floor satiating the spoiler center of my brain. I was elated. This was especially so because I knew that this was the first time that “Sea Foam Green,” a relic that first appeared on Ben Weasel Presents: Punk USA, would be performed live in 22 years.
Jawbreaker introduced their set the same way they introduce the sequence of their final record Dear You – with the now endlessly-referenced anthem that divided a loyal fan base when it was unleashed on September 12th, 1995. Literarily relevant today, “Save Your Generation” was performed feet in front of me and whisked me swiftly into this experience. For the sake of consistency, they followed with another first track. “Boat Dreams From The Hill” is the first Jawbreaker song I ever heard, having purchased 24 Hour Revenge Therapy on cassette on a whim sometime in 1994.
As Blake began to address the crowd between songs, his words were greeted with the similar silent respect I’d come to expect as a witness to many of his past performances. There were big laughs at pop culture references and nervous confusion at heady literary references to obscure authors. I always found this strange, because I generally interpreted Blake’s banter as an attempt to communicate and engage with his audiences. Yet, rarely would he cast and garner a nibble.
When I think back to having attended Thorns Of Life’s Gilman show on January 31, 2009, Blake shared the inspiration behind “Ribbonhead,” a song that would later make it on to his next band’s LP. He spoke of Donald Barthelme, who authored a short story about a man and his robot who began to break down. From the crowd I yelled, “I saw that movie! Will Smith!” With a snicker, he responded, “No, wasn’t that one”. And after a beat he jested, “I feel as though you’ve degraded the whole tenor of the conversation”. It was a great moment during a great show where the connection between the band and the audience was warm and reciprocal.
But on this Saturday afternoon, he suggested “You’re kind of a reserved audience.” And later reminded us that “It’s a punk show. It’s not bible camp.” Perhaps it was either the knowledge that when we would leave the venue, it would still be light out or that some folks weren’t as keen to start drinking at 1:00 PM. Nevertheless, he committed to the band “soldiering on” and so they did.
Many of us who celebrate the whole of Jawbreaker’s catalog tend to identify that there’s Dear You and then there’s everything before Dear You. I was delighted to find that the band doesn’t appear to make this delineation as the 13 song set tastefully covered the broad spectrum of their recording career.
“Jet Black” signaled the band’s self-proclaimed emo chapter of the set. They naturally descended deeper into dark territory with Bivouac’s “Parabola.” It was wholly appropriate that this band, so quintessential to the 90’s, channeled Matt Pinfield as Blake began to satirically detail Bivouac’s influences and relevance to the underground music scene.
Even the endlessly covered “Boxcar,” a song I might have presumed would seem like a burden to the band, brought with it great synergy from all three members as the penultimate song on the setlist. However, “Fireman” was noticeably absent. The set concluded with “Kiss The Bottle”. I was initially convinced this was the first time they played it live since reuniting, but realized I was just running on empty by the time they played it at Riot Fest.
After the band left the stage, applause and cheers persisted for several minutes while the house music and lights remained silent and dim. Though I can’t confirm it, it felt as though an encore was intended. But they never came back. Finally, a muddled soundtrack and unexpected brightness washed over us as the crowd woke to the reality that the show was over, but the day had just begun. It was 5:00 PM. And it was time for sushi.
Check out the below photos from this epic show by Matthew Kadi: