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Band Jawbreaker returns to Chicago after reuniting

A promotional photo of the band around the 1990s. (gigwise.com)

A promotional photo of the band around the 1990s. (gigwise.com)

Lars Lonnroth, Managing editor of Breaking News/ Multimedia Content

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When you think college English professor, you probably think the only stage they can command is that of the classroom. But that is not the case with Blake Schwarzenbach, the front-man of the largely unknown yet incredibly influential punk band Jawbreaker.

Jawbreaker served as the bridge between punk rock and what could be called the “emo” genre during the ‘80s and ‘90s, despite the fact that they never received the same mainstream success as some of the acts they inspired did.

Although they broke up in 1996, the band reunited at the Chicago music festival Riot Fest last year, which would kick-start another tour. At the Aragon Ballroom on Nov. 5, Jawbreaker took to the Chicago stage for another round.

The show—which was sponsored by the very festival that reunited them, Riot Fest—was headlined by Jawbreaker, but also included the bands the Smoking Popes and Naked Raygun, both well-regarded Chicago punk bands.

Before delving into the Jawbreaker set, I want to touch on Naked Raygun’s performance, which I found to be rather lackluster. The band’s lead singer, Jeff Pezzati, took the stage in flannel pajama pants and a Star Wars T-shirt, which was juxtaposed with the rest of the band, who were mainly wearing buttoned-up black dress shirts.

That would serve as a striking parallel throughout the band’s set, too.

Many punk bands often assume apathetic personas on stage because—well, you know, punk. But Pezzati’s performance seemed more than just an act. His performance was sleepy and it seemed like he would prefer doing anything to being on stage on that night. It was abundantly clear that he was not giving it his all.

Furthermore, there were points in their set where it seemed as if there were parts that were messy or just outright missing. Almost all of the time it seemed to be at the fault of Pezzati.

That being said, that didn’t mean the show was not enjoyable.

Lyrics in punk songs, especially in bands that you are not too familiar with, are not as important as in alternative or rock. Musically, the rest of the band was on-point. My main critique was that it just seemed as if Pezzati was playing, not performing—going through the motions, not giving the show his all.

When Naked Raygun concluded their set and Jawbreaker and Schwarzenbach strutted onto the stage, Jawbreaker’s set did not disappoint.

Some punk shows necessitate a significant amount of movement on the stage to make the show interesting, but Jawbreaker’s melancholic and cathartic emotional ballads takes you on a journey that does the work for them. This was especially evident in songs like “Accident Prone” and their other songs off the album “Dear You.”

Schwarzenbach, who at the age of 51 wrote some of these songs almost 24 years ago, still sang it with the passion that one would expect from an angry punk rocker in their teenage years.

While Naked Raygun’s Pezzati did moved around more during his set—like twirling the microphone around like a lasso—Schwarzenbach seemed more committed to performing than Pezzati, despite staying largely stationary.

On the other hand, though, there were moments during Jawbreaker’s set where there were pauses in the performance that may have gone on for too long.

There were also moments where Schwarzenbach’s academic speeches—he’s a professor, after all—may have made some in the audience think “get on with it.” But I personally liked his short discussions about Greek mythology and history and whatever other thoughts popped into his head.

Also, when old bands getting back together again during a time in their life more associated with white-picket fences than punk rock shows, the results can often be iffy. But Jawbreaker succeeded in replicating the music from their past despite perhaps taking more breaks than a punk band in their prime.

For Jawbreaker, the imperative was not necessarily moving around the stage but singing their songs with the same emotion, power and frustration with which they were originally written. To a large degree, they did.

At the end of the day, that’s what I would say makes Jawbreaker’s show a success: they still have the ability to transport the audience to the sides of human emotions we often wish to ignore. A message that is especially impactful during a time when the pop airwaves are so filled with happy-go-lucky tunes without any real purpose.

Jawbreaker unabashedly displays the sadness, isolation and disillusionment that every single person has had to grapple with at one point in their life. The show wasn’t depressing, in fact it was quite the contrary: it was cathartic. It is was a guide through the experience of life.

In the same way a jam band takes the listener on a journey in this mystical world of music, Jawbreaker takes that wondering aspect of jam bands and applied it to punk music. Because at the end of the day, we are all wandering through life—through the trials and tribulations that lay in our way.

That’s what punk music is about.

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