Live Review: Jawbreaker at Riot Fest, Sept. 17th

By Eli Schoop, Copy Editor

Imagine seeing your favorite band. Maybe it’s Grizzly Bear or Haim. You would be ecstatic, of course. Now imagine the band was reuniting for one last go. The hype is amplified, it’s a nostalgia trip and an experience seldom seen by those of the generation. Then, add on the fact that the band hasn’t played a show in 21 years. That’s only slightly approaching the palpable atmosphere brought on by seeing Jawbreaker at Riot Fest on Sunday.

My girlfriend and I only bought tickets for one day, yet it felt like there was no point in attending the other two days, due to how insignificant they were compared to the San Francisco titans of punk. And true to the mythological proportions, they did not disappoint in the slightest.

Before the headlining act, I got to see Cap’n Jazz and Dinosaur Jr. While great bands in their own right, they were a stopgap to the main attraction. Tim Kinsella was playing comedian and featured a tambourine as a hat while the band played as tight as ever.

We palled around the venue afterward, buying overpriced drinks and looking for port-a-potties aimlessly, exploring each nook and cranny of Riot Fest. Contrary to the hipness and indifference displayed by much of modern music culture, Riot Fest-goers were proud about their commitment to the bands who don’t have the most social capital in 2017.

While this seems pretentious to note, it’s admirable that 30-to-40 year-olds don’t want to adhere to the boring and seemingly arbitrary set of codes lived by young adults. It fed well into Dinosaur Jr, where the trio of Lou Barlow, J Mascis, and Murph jammed out like a bunch of old hermits on a deserted island. Well, they at least looked like a bunch of hermits. But, the music was tight.

Regardless, these classic acts were no match for the night’s headliner. Coming after Prophets of Rage’s patented, canned #Resistance setlist, Blake Schwarzenbach’s pro-Gaza tee and Chris Bauermeister’s Antifa shirt were the authentic counterparts in a politically charged night of music.

Blake, in particular, didn’t seem like he had left performing with the band at all, throwing out quips about being old and decrying the hegemonic system that we, unfortunately, live under. Once “Boxcar” started up, all hell broke loose. It was like a dam bursting open, but the dam represented repressed emotions about a legendary group coming back together. The ambiance and energy were unbelievable. My girlfriend began crying immediately (the first of many tears throughout the set), but who could blame her? It was like seeing your first pet resurrected and doing tricks for you.

Jawbreaker spent no time bringing the hits out. “Sluttering (May 4th)”, “The Boat Dreams From The Hill”, “West Bay Invitational”, an array of tracks few Jawbreaker loyalists could complain about. I ugly sang to each and every one of these punk landmarks, drawing the ire of my girlfriend, but I couldn’t care less. This was fucking Jawbreaker!!! Blake sang each word with the vigor from ’93, backed by his indomitable rhythm section and thousands of adoring fans.

The 1-2 punch of “Save Your Generation” into “Jet Black” satisfied the itch for Dear You content, flooding the middle school malaise straight back into my mental visage. The more melancholic tracks such as “Accident Prone” and “Million” were perfectly performed, providing such an emotional resonance that it was hard to believe they were conceived more than 20 years ago. “The cult of Blake” is a well-deserved moniker for someone who could craft such impactful music.

“Condition Oakland” was the climax of the night. A punk odyssey, an ode to the East Bay, an emotional journey – it’s all those things plus being a damn fun song. The guys next to me were freaking out, akin to One Direction fangirls, hearing the “Stairway To Heaven” of the DIY community being performed in front of them. The surreality of the whole show wasn’t lost on anyone. It was more like a dream, similar to hologram Tupac or the Michael Jackson concert movie released after he died, but Jawbreaker was still alive. By the time “Bivouac” had ended, there wasn’t really a need for an encore. It would only be redundant.

All the fans flooding out of Douglas Park made for a clusterfuck in terms of traffic. Cops, bike taxis, Ubers, it was a sight to behold. Alyssa and I had to make for the train, where we encountered a violently annoying group of teens singing acapella. Fortunately for the sake of this article, I didn’t beat them up. But in the spirit of Blake and the gang, my yin and yang were aligned by the sights I’d witnessed over the evening. I don’t know if I’ll ever see a concert that transcendent or unprecedented again, and I thank Blake, Chris, and Adam for crossing a singular moment off of my bucket list.


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