Near as I can tell, Jawbreaker first came through Boston as a band in the Summer of 1990 on their “Fuck 90” US Tour. That show took place at the legendary Rat in Kenmore Square (RIP) and found Jawbreaker playing alongside Rise and Chinchilla Whiplash (lol) and Full Nelson Riley (LOL). Here’s the show flier. Oh, and no, that is not from my personal collection, sadly, as I was not there, because even though I like to think that I was a cool kid growing up in southern New Hampshire, the reality is that I was not cool, and even if I was, “cool” meant that I had a pretty gnarly rat tail and could do a mean tight roll on my acid washed Bugle Boy jeans and I actually had a Champion pullover sweatshirt and oh by the way I was ten years old.
I didn’t really start making my way to Boston for shows until April of my junior year of high school, which if you’re keeping score at home was 1996. Jawbreaker were on their Dear You tour and I really liked Dear You because I wasn’t old/cool enough to know that you weren’t supposed to like that album if you were “a punk,” but also funds were limited so there was a bit of a coin-flip situation that found me going to the Bad Religion show that month instead of the Jawbreaker one, because the former was during school vacation and the latter was on a school night, and remember I was not what you’d call “cool.” Plus, it was still close enough to 1994 that punk was still in and so punk bands came around semi-regularly and so we’d just catch them next time around. If you’re still reading this, it means you’re probably familiar with Jawbreaker and so you know how that decision to catch them next time would be a colossal tactical decision on my part. (For the uninitiated; they broke up in rather catastrophic fashion the following month and didn’t play together again in public for another twenty-one years. Oops.)
And so fast-forward essentially a generation and a sold-out reunion tour show at Boston’s House Of Blues in 2019 and another on the Dear You 25th anniversary tour last year, both of which I had to miss for what we’ll call “reasons” and we get to last Friday, when the band returned to the Kenmore Square area for a date at the cavernous new MGM Music Hall at Fenway or whatever the official title is. Not only could the House Of Blues fit comfortably inside MGM with plenty of room to spare, I’m pretty sure The Rat (R.I.P.) could fit in the men’s room (which is super conveniently located on the second floor of the 5000-capacity theater but that’s another conversation for another time).
Given that travel to – and parking at – the venue is tricky at best on Red Sox home game days (the MGM shares a common wall with the bleachers at Fenway Park), showgoers were very much still filling in the lower GA bowl when Grumpster got the evening kick-started promptly at 7:00 sharp. If you haven’t seen Grumpster live, you’ve been doing yourself a disservice. The band is fronted by Donnie Walsh, a Massachusetts native who headed west to the Bay Area in search of the sort of melodic pop punk rock sounds that that scene put on the map thirty-plus years ago (so, in the time of Jawbreaker). Walsh is a human pinball on stage, frantically bouncing around the massive expanse of a stage while still maintaining bass and lead vocal duties (at least when he’s not given a reprieve by the band’s newest member, Alex Hernandez, who was officially added to the original three-piece lineup of Walsh, guitarist Lalo Gonzalez Deetz and drummer Noel Agtane over the summer to add depth on guitar and vocals). I can’t really say enough good things about Grumpster and their performance on this show and, I imagine, this whole run. They’re fun, funny, energetic, inspiring, at times painfully honest. They made a large and potentially intimidating setting feel a bit like an Elks Lodge punk rock show in all the best ways. Check out tracks like “Crash” and “Better Than Dead” and “Misery” off their latest record, Fever Dream, and you’ll get it.
The California punk rock party continued with Joyce Manor hitting in the number two spot in the order. Joyce Manor’s history dates back to the very early days of Dying Scene; near as I can tell, they were one of the very first bands we covered pretty extensively a dozen-or-so years ago, and I remember writing a lot about Of All The Things I Will Soon Grow Tired and Cody upon their respective releases, and yet in digging through the annals of DS/JM shared history, I couldn’t find another instance of us shooting them live. Strange!
Appearing as a five-piece on this run (with the one-and-only Neil Hennessy still manning the drum kit!), Joyce Manor tore through a twenty-song set that leaned heavily on their 2011 self-titled record and 2014’s Never Hungover Again. The crowd, which had by now filled to a respectable level, was primed and ready to go from the first notes of set opener “Gotta Let It Go.” We had ourselves not only a circle pit (in fairness, not a California-style circle pit, but still a pit in the shape of a circle so it counts) but enough crowd surfers coming over the abnormally tight barricade that a few backup security guards were called in from the front of the house to serve as backup. If it provides any context to how amped-up the crowd was for Joyce Manor, from my perch in the photo pit before and in between sets, I overheard more than one conversation that centered around showgoers being surprised that Joyce Manor was opening for Jawbreaker and not the other way around and that it must have just been a Jawbreaker show because they were the OGs. Kids these days…
And so finally, at 9:00pm sharp, after a thirty-minute wait for set changeover but really close to a thirty-year wait, it was Jawbreaker time. The foursome (Blake and Adam and Chris plus Mitch Hobbs, longtime guitar tech, on second guitar) hit the stage and dove into “I Love You So Much It’s Killing Us Both.” Like much of Dear You, it’s a song that resonated in a particular way when it came out the week I turned sixteen. But when you add to it the context that Dear You became the last album before Jawbreaker self-destructed and then when you add to THAT the context that I’m now forty-four, it’s a song that hits like a sledgehammer.
From there, the band plowed through about a dozen-and-a-half songs that leaned heavily on the once-maligned-but-now-adored Dear You, but still managed to cover the duration of the band’s five-year history of recorded material. (Side note: think about that…as influential and genre-defining a band as Jawbreaker was, their entire output of recorded full-length records was released in a five-year span from 1990 to 1995.) It seemed like it took the band a couple of songs to hit their stride, but once they locked in at probably the “Seafoam Green” or “Condition Oakland” part of the set, they were as tight and focused as ever. The gravel and snarl in Blake Schwarzenbach’s voice, which people for years lamented had disappeared, seem to have returned only in a more weary, road-worn fashion.
Bass player Chris Bauermeister stayed pretty well rooted in place in his place at stage right, his focus firmly placed on his Antigua Fender P bass. Fitting, I suppose, since his playing style always served as a pretty solid foundation from which the traditionally single-guitar attack could wander. Adam Pfahler, as always, provided the gas pedal for the whole thing. This is a bit of a rudimentary comment to make, but on more than one occasion, I couldn’t help but think “damn…Adam is a REALLY good drummer.” It’s one thing to hear his playing on recordings that are 25-30 years old, but it’s another thing to see it live circa 2023, and to gain a new respect for the sort of groove and feel created and to see how his influence has carried forward in myriad bands since.
And of course, at the front of the operation, is the inimitable Blake Schwarzenback. Schwarzenbach has always been known for his emotionally honest, drunken poet lyrical style, and his vocal stylings lent authenticity to his words. Thirty-plus years of experiences paint many of those songs – like set-opener “I Love You So Much It’s Killing Us Both” and “Save Your Generation” and “Unlisted Track,” the latter of which Schwarzenbach performed solo accompanied by only his trademark white late 80s Les Paul Custom which has yellowed with age – in a different light and provide newer, deeper context. What had sounded like high school or college-age scorned love songs take on more gravity with the passing of time and adult relationships and societal dysfunction in the years since the words were first sung. Much of the set felt cathartic in a way a lot of shows haven’t in a while, but the post-“Unlisted Track” three-song closer of “Basilica,” “Kiss The Bottle” and “Accident Prone” was just about perfect. And so do I wish that my first Jawbreaker show occurred on that infamous “Fuck 90” tour? No…I was 10 and it was at The Rat and I probably would have died. And especially no, because I think it means more now that I saw them for the first time after just turning 44 and Blake’s words and the band’s sound have carved such a deep and indelible path in my brain. Thanks, Blake and Adam and Chris (and Mitch!). More than you know.
Check out photo galleries from each band’s set below!
JOYCE MANOR PICS