Jawbreaker, Last Band on the Titanic

Saving lives decades on

The Nineties were a simpler time, an age of Clinton-era peace and prosperity, when artists delivered emotion without irony, punks played Les Pauls through Marshall amps, and the highest offense in underground music was “selling out.”

Jawbreaker’s Adam Pfahler and Blake Schwarzenbach outside Austin’s Long Center, 7.13.18 (Photo by John Anderson)

Two decades on, a huge crowd outside Austin’s Long Center early Friday evening howled in delight as Blake Schwarzenbach sang, “I have a present, it is the present” over palm-muted guitar, the first lines to “Save Your Generation” off Jawbreaker’s polarizing final LP, 1996’s Dear You. At the time of its release, the album’s major label branding equaled a scarlet letter. Now, after 22 years in which the California trio’s thoughtful music has grown increasingly influential, Dear You material no longer carries cultural stigma.

If anything, it’s funny anyone ever cared.

The triad of Schwarzenbach, bassist Chris Bauermeister, and drummer Adam Pfahler gathered on local soil for the first time since a 1996 appearance at the Austin Music Hall opening for the Foo Fighters. From bouncy opening anthem “Boxcar” to closing hit “Shield Your Eyes,” which resounded with warmer vocals than its recording on 1992’s Bivouac, Jawbreaker sounded impeccable. Hilarious observations from the frontman, sprinkled throughout the 75-minute performance, added to a surprisingly lighthearted mood.

“Two million illegal rodents are living under the bridge on Congress Avenue,” Schwarzenbach announced, referring to Austin’s famed population of Mexican free-tailed bats. “Lawless, into the night, they devour the insect population, doing the work that white Americans don’t want to do. And what thanks do they get? They live under a bridge, people think they’re a nuisance, they’re dangerous and contagious.”

The singer-guitarist also poured love on our town, where the band rented a practice space in preparation for the show, plus a screening on Thursday at the Alamo Drafthouse of Jawbreaker documentary Don’t Break Down.

“Austin’s been the live music capital of this fallen nation and, as we slide into oblivion, it feels like the last band on the Titanic,” said Schwarzenbach. “I can’t think of better people to die with.”

After performing noise-punk deep cut “Parabola,” in which he screamed though his guitar pickups, the frontman called that track’s platter Bivouac “overlooked at the time of its release,” leading to a long comedic riff in which he appeared to be reciting Jawbreaker’s Wikipedia page. Ultimately, “The Boat Dreams From the Hill” and a long-deferred performance of “Do You Still Hate Me,” both from the band’s Steve Albini-produced masterwork 24-Hour Revenge Therapy, received the most frenzied response from a fanbase that exceeds the designation “devoted.”

Those thousands looked like a Fun Fun Fun Fest crowd, minus anyone under 30. The Skyline Theater, aka the Long Center’s front lawn, overlooks Austin’s surging central business district and proved an unusually picturesque environment for a punk show. Credit local promoters Margin Walker, because the venue’s capacity of 7,000 meant that everyone waiting 22 years to see Jawbreaker got to see them, and thanks to a stellar performance none of them left disappointed.

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Jawbreaker, Blake Schwarzenbach, Chris Bauermeister, Adam Pfahler, Skyline Theater, Long Center, Austin Music Hall, Steve Albini, Foo Fighters, Alamo Drafthouse, Don’t Break Down, Fun Fun Fun Fest

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