2019 marks 30 years since Jawbox first took the stage together. It also marks over 20 years since they last played live together, so needless to say this reunion tour has been generating a lot of buzz and excitement since officially being announced in January.
Originally formed as a trio consisting of J. Robbins (Government Issue), Kim Coletta, and Adam Wade (Shudder To Think, Sweet 75) the band would release their debut album Grippe on Fugazi frontman Ian MacKaye’s Dischord label. Shortly after, Bill Barbot joined Robbins (guitar/vocals), Coletta (bass), and Wade (drums) to lend additional guitar and vocals. The final shuffling of personnel followed 1992’s Novelty, the bands final release on Dischord, and saw Wade departing for fellow district post-hardcore outfit Shudder To Think with the drumming duties falling to friend of the band Zach Barocas. Departing Dischord for major label Atlantic the band would release For Your Own Special Sweetheart and their final self-titled Jawbox before disbanding in 1997. With the exception of a “friends and family” warm-up show at Metro Gallery in Baltimore, tonight would be their first live show for the general public in 22 years and it was well worth the wait.
As an early line formed for entry into The Sinclair, bassist Kim Coletta was spotted walking about Harvard Square and engaged a few of the advanced arrivals. She shared that she had blown the head to her bass amp during soundcheck but that in less than an hour there were 2 loaners dropped off by supportive Bostonians. That’s how she described them, not me, but if her good humor and cheer is anything, it’s contagious. In fact, the vibe all night was one of joy and celebration with smiles flashed between bandmates as if to say “I can’t believe we’re back at it again”. Smiles were abundant among the audience as well. Even when a pit populated by aged old men opened up they too wore wry self aware grimaces as they threw elbows and lumbered about.
The members of Jawbox took their spots onstage following a solid set from Philly/D.C. area Second Letter featuring drummer Pete Moffett who anchored Burning Airlines with Robbins and Bardot from 1997 to 2002. With each guitarist posted stage left and right and Barocas stationed rear center on the drum riser, Coletta roamed center stage free to perform her iconic moves and facial expressions. Before launching into their first song J. Robbins slung his guitar over his shoulder and took to the mic greeting the capacity crowd: “Nice to see you all.” Kim then chimed in eagerly, “I would be remiss if I did not inform you all that today is Mr. J. Robbins’ birthday!” As the clapping and cheering took hold, Bardot added sarcastically, “Yeah he’s 28”. An impromptu singing of Happy Birthday began from the floor gaining momentum like the wave at nearby Fenway park. J. smiled and shook his head while making the final tuning adjustments to his guitar. The foursome then looked to each other, nodded in confirmation, and dove headlong into “Mirrorful,” which immediately had the crowd whipped into a frenzy. Hundreds mouthing the opening line “Blue-eyed bloody lullaby” in unison sure must have been great to look out on because from that moment on, Jawbox were back!
As they made their way through the first few songs including “68” and “Desert Sea” from their final two albums on Atlantic, Robbins joked, “I was going to say this next one is an old one, but…” and proceeded to follow Barocas’ introductory snare cymbal splash with the opening chords to “Grip” from their debut 1991 album Grippe. The era of songs made no difference, as the foursome ripped through old and older songs that defined post-hardore 90’s indie listening right on through to remembrances of MTV videos and 120-Minutes debuts. While most in attendance were old enough to “remember those days” there was a younger constituency who had clearly done their homework on the importance and impact of this seminal D.C. outfit. Following the percussively heavy “Won’t Come Off,” Bill Bardot took to the mic to offer an invitation to the crowd: “It’s been a long time so if you want to fly, go ahead and fly”. This was Bardot’s way of saying, “we’re about to fuck shit up now so if you want to go hard on the floor, go for it” and that’s exactly what happened as he and Robbins traded riffs and vocals to the blistering “Breathe” while Coletta and Barocas anchored the ship frenetically attempting to pull away from its moorings. The storm was unrelenting as Robbins’ whirring guitar punctured the end and signaling the start of “Cutoff” from 1992’s Novelty. Continuing to churn, the sea of bodies rose and fell. A bit of a respite came in the form of “Reel” before the wake widened once again to unbridled enthusiasm to Jawbox’s closest thing to a hit single in “Savory.”
A final “come together” track in the form of Tori Amos’ Cornflake Girl finished out the triumphant first show in more than two decades for the D.C. punk troubadours. As quickly as they left the stage with waves and smiles the foursome returned for a three song encore. Bardot joked that they’d keep playing as many songs as they remembered. Robbins then asked if the audience knew who Drew O’Doherty was. A local Boston area singer/songwriter known to many in the audience, their first encore was a cover of his lyrical track “The Robbery.” Setting the stage for a fast-paced finale, originals “Jackpot Plus!” and “Absenter” closed the history book on the first show of their An Impartial Overview tour of 2019. If you happen to be in their path, throw yourself in the mix and see why Jawbox is as relevant as ever.
Nickle Nickle Millionaire
Chinese Fork Tie
Won’t Come Off
Cornflake Girl(Tori Amos cover)
The Robbery (Drew O’Doherty cover)