I Saw Jawbreaker 30 Years Ago
June 9th, 1993.
I had been introduced to punk rock just a year earlier, and I was still nearing the end of my gradual transition away from grunge and into punk rock.
When a punk band played at our local venue (Rockafellas in Columbia, South Carolina), you went to see them, period. We didn’t get a lot of opportunities around this time, so we might see an industrial or goth band one week, then a punk band the next. I guess you could say that South Carolina was kind of like the Sahara for punk.
So it was with great enthusiasm that I looked forward to seeing a legit punk band, Jawbreaker, play a big show on this night filled with promise, electric with energy.
Thirty years ago, I saw this band play, and it was a seminal moment in my life.
How punk was I thirty years ago? Probably precisely somewhere between these two photos. If you’ve gone punk, you know this agonizingly awkward phase all too well:
I knew what to expect from the shows we had seen up to that point. After seeing local punk bands, a somewhat different band came through called Spoke. Spoke was more or less Helmet, but 10% more punk and 100% more DIY. Here’s a song Spoke played live when I saw them earlier in ‘93:
Spoke brought along with them a compilation record to sell. They were on it, and so was another band called Samiam. Samiam was on a split with yet another band called Jawbreaker.
Incidentally, the above process describes how I found at least half of the bands I found back then. That’s just sort of how it was done.
By June of ‘93, I was at least familiar with Jawbreaker’s style, and I was ready for a big punk show. I was not disappointed.
Jawbreaker’s show was the first show I ever attended where moshing was actually (fairly) safe. Up until then, there had simply been too much space, so when people started dancing and shoving one another around, there just wasn’t anywhere to go. Elbows and punches weren’t altogether uncommon at less crowded venues.
Today, there was no space for any such shenanigans. Even if you wanted to get into a fight (and I never did), you’d have no choice but to take the intended action outside. Not only was security watching out for any violence, protecting the band and the venue, but there just wasn’t enough space to really start some violent shit.
This made me feel safe. I really, really enjoyed moshing. Pushing and shoving and getting out a lot of my 17 year old angst was everything. It’s difficult to explain how liberating this was today, because trying to replicate that original feeling is almost insulting, but I’ll give it a shot.
I realize now, looking back, that moshing allowed me to get into flow state. I was able to ignore the world around me, and get lost completely in the music and the dance. These days, I get into flow state with jiu jitsu or with writing, but at age 17, I really, really needed this type of release.
Now, Jawbreaker was promoting their recent release, Bivouac. This album was from ‘92, and this tour was kind of sandwiched between Bivouac and 24 Hour Revenge Therapy, which ended up “leveling up” their popularity. For now, though, they were just the right size: bigger than any punk show I had seen to date, but not commercially big.
Here’s Bivouac, just so you can get an idea of what I was listening to if you’re not already familiar with Jawbreaker’s music:
Right about now is when I step aside and lettake center stage. is a fantastic page for music lovers, and Kevin’s range is wide. I strongly suggesting checking his page out when you have a chance.
My memory isn’t even rock-solid about events from my own life during this timeframe, but Kevin has made a study of musical history and lives in this world.
Sophomore releases can be fraught. If a band did well enough commercially to warrant a second release, the assumption is usually that it will be as good, if not better than the debut. Expectations run high and often irrational (see: “Paul’s Boutique”).
In 1992, there was no other band facing higher expectations from me than Jawbreaker. I had first heard of them a few years earlier. There was no internet yet, and word of mouth spread through magazines like Flipside and homemade ‘zines like CometBus. If you were lucky enough to live on the way to/from somewhere, you might’ve benefitted from more shows than you otherwise would’ve — take a bow, Fargo North Dakota — but that was about it,
Word of the band had spread like wildfire in my social circles. An older kid in the neighborhood had picked up one of their 7" records, and we promptly had our minds rearranged. By the time the band put out their 1990 debut LP Unfun, I was hooked. I rode the bus downtown to 2nd Avenue Records to pick it up, and held it in my hands the whole way home, not daring to open it yet or even set it down.
From the first note through the end, their pop-punk sound and vocalist Blake Schwarzenbach’s lyrics were a recipe for delight. 30+ years later, it sounds as good as ever.
And so it was 2 years later, with a mix of excitement and trepidation that I went to pick up their next album, Bivouac. Would it be as good? What if they changed their sound?
What if it just plain sucked?
These expectations were heightened by a prevalent idea at the time that these bands were somehow ours, that they didn’t belong to anyone but this small crowd of people in the scene. We were somehow the sole (self-deigned) arbiters of what was good and what wasn’t. That doesn’t really exist in today's decentralized environment and is absurd in hindsight. This is also how so many people came to equate any kind of success with “selling out” (also absurd).
Jawbreaker has always laughed off these kinds of Talmudic rules and purity tests. Still, I wondered.
The truth burns bright
There’s too much there sometimes
The sun it shows, the sun it blinds
Best to keep your eyes
Stare at the sidewalk lines
Let lies lie, don’t let them shine
…let them shine, don’t let them shine
It was a typically grey winter day in the Pacific Northwest. It doesn’t snow that much in the winter, it’s just a slow burn of overcast. For months.
Like Jawbreaker, I was a little older now, and instead of riding Tri-Met, drove my 1981 Honda Civic down to 2nd Avenue. I was picking up a friend from work afterward, and she made me promise to wait to listen to it until after I picked her up.
I made my way over to her office, and we got back in the car. I pressed play, and the opening chords of “Shield Your Eyes” washed over us. We both looked at each other with that look that says “holy shit!” This was gonna be good, we just knew it. They had kept their end of the bargain.
Kevin’s experience with hearing this album was different from mine, mainly because this genre was still really new to me, and also because I hadn’t heard of Jawbreaker before Bivouac came out. If you enjoy music as much as Kevin and I do, don’t forget to check out Kevin’s page. Kevin writes about a wide range of stuff, and I enjoy poking my head in to see what he’s up to.
If you enjoyed this little trip down Punk Memory Lane, you might also enjoy this story about me interviewing the Misfits, which took place around 2 years after this show.
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