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Jawbreaker made a triumphant return at Riot Fest (review, pics, videos, setlist)

In true Jawbreaker-fan fashion, there were punks who didn’t even want them to reunite. Whether it was because they already saw Jawbreaker in their prime and didn’t want to see them on a big festival stage, or because they insist Jawbreaker’s final chapter was already written and a reunion would tarnish their legacy, there are diehards who think this reunion is nothing but trouble. Somehow all these years later, the band who wrote perhaps the most iconic rebuttal to being called a sellout and whose “sellout album” has turned into one of their most beloved, were once again getting pegged with sellout accusations for choosing to end their 21-year breakup at Riot Fest.

This makes it perfect timing that the long-in-the-works Jawbreaker documentary was finally released ahead of the reunion. The documentary tells a slightly different version of the Jawbreaker story than the angry punks do. It portrays them as a band that could’ve been one of the biggest punk bands in the world, but were stopped by the punks’ hatred of their major label debut Dear You, the mainstream’s failure to latch onto it, and the inner-band turmoil that caused Jawbreaker to break up soon after its release. The documentary itself attempts to add a new chapter to this narrative, one where Jawbreaker eventually emerge as the band they always had the potential to be. But it was their reunion set at Riot Fest on Sunday (9/17) that truly solidified this. Here they were, headlining the final day of a festival whose day one and day two headliners were indisputably two of the biggest rock bands in the world, Nine Inch Nails and Queens of the Stone Age. There was no guaranteeing that Jawbreaker would succeed as a headliner compared to those two bands. They hadn’t played in 21 years, save for a secret seven-song show at a 200-capacity venue to warm up for Riot Fest. They could’ve been rusty, they could’ve still had kinks to work out. A lot of beloved cult bands reunite and still only manage to fill afternoon slots at major festivals (like, say, Cap’n Jazz, who played Riot Fest on Sunday at 4:25 PM). A Jawbreaker reunion is a big deal, but could they really jump from not being a band to headlining a festival?

The answer, it turned out, was a resounding “yes.” I’ve seen Blake Schwarzenbach play some pretty low-profile shows in recent years, but up there on the Riot Fest stage as the frontman of Jawbreaker, he was the rock star he always could have been. The band didn’t miss a beat, Blake’s voice was in fine form, the very excited, massive crowd was jumping up and down and yelling every word from the minute Jawbreaker opened their set with fan favorite “Boxcar.” I’m still a little blown away at how good they sounded and how natural it seemed for those three guys to be playing together after all these years. When the cameras zoomed in on the crowd, you could see the love in people’s eyes for this band and the shared amazement that they were back and sounding great as ever. When the crowd sang the “aye-ee-aye-ee-aye, aye-ee-aye-ee-aye, I want you” chorus of “Want,” or the quiet intro of “Save Your Generation,” or just about all of “Kiss The Bottle,” they were some of the most passionate singalongs I heard all weekend at Riot Fest. It felt like thousands of people were welcoming Jawbreaker back at once.

The big singalongs were a communally great time, but Jawbreaker’s set was more than pop punk singalongs. The slower, darker, more dynamic songs like “Jet Black,” “Accident Prone,” and “Million” (that Blake called the “adult” portion of the show) gave the set a real intensity that took things to a more mesmerizing level than you could’ve guessed from the first few songs. The power of that portion was even more proof that Dear You turned out to be an essential album. After going back to a few more singalongs (including “Condition Oakland” and the aforementioned “Kiss the Bottle”), Jawbreaker concluded their set with what might be their most intense pre-Dear You moment, the lengthy title track of “Bivouac.” It ended with Blake making tons of noise by yelling into his pickups and toying with his pedals, and Adam Pfahler kicking his drums off the riser. Pulling off a rock star ending like that without seeming cheesy was the nail in the coffin for this final chapter of Jawbreaker’s career. While many reunions are a way to have some fun and play some old songs for some eager fans, Jawbreaker’s reunion has a bigger purpose. Finally, 21 years later, Jawbreaker feel like one of the biggest bands in the world.

Pictures of Jawbreaker at Riot Fest are in the gallery above, and some videos and their setlist are below. More pictures of Riot Fest day three coming soon. Day two pics HERE, and day one pics HERE and HERE.

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Jawbreaker at Riot Fest 2017 Setlist (via)
Boxcar
Sluttering (May 4th)
Want
The Boat Dreams From the Hill
West Bay Invitational
Save Your Generation
Jet Black
In Sadding Around
Accident Prone
Million
Parabola
Condition Oakland
Chemistry
Kiss the Bottle
Bivouac

photos by James Richards IV

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