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Jawbreaker, War On Women & Pohgoh played BK Steel twice (pics, review, setlists)

After cancelling outdoor NY/NJ shows due to Hurricane Florence last summer, Jawbreaker returned to NYC this past weekend for two shows at Brooklyn Steel, the same venue they played three shows at in February 2018, which were their first NYC shows in over 20 years. I caught the Saturday (3/23) show and photographer Stephanie Augello — whose photos are in the gallery above — caught the Sunday (3/24) show.

Jawbreaker sounded as great as ever on Saturday, but they weren’t the only reason it was a fantastic show all around. They had truly killer openers: Pohgoh and War On Women. Tampa’s Pohgoh were staples of the ’90s indie/punk/emo scene, having released splits with Discount and Braid back in the day, and one full-length album, 1998’s In Memory of Bab, before breaking up. After a long hiatus, Pohgoh finally returned with their first album in 20 years, Secret Club (produced by J Robbins of the now-reunited Jawbox), and it sounded as great as the band’s classic material — maybe even better. It’s also an album with much different concerns than their debut, as it was the band’s first album since singer Susie Ulrey was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2001, which left her unable to walk and prevented her from playing guitar for years. She had to perform sitting down at Brooklyn Steel, but she was in good spirits about it, cracking a joke about having M.S. and thanking Brooklyn Steel for being so accommodating. (War On Women also thanked Brooklyn Steel for the accessibility for Pohgoh during their set, and all three bands complimented the venue’s staff for being so great in general.) As on the new record, Pohgoh sounded fantastic live. The new songs still have that aching, melodic sound of ’90s emo, but they sound fresh today too, and they were a great fit to warm the crowd up for Jawbreaker. The sold-out show hadn’t packed in yet for their 8 PM set, but anyone who was there was in for a real treat. If you haven’t checked out Secret Club yet, I can’t recommend it enough.

After Pohgoh were War On Women, fresh off releasing 2018’s Capture The Flag which was not just one of our favorite punk albums of 2018 but one of our favorites of the year in general. They split the set well between songs from that album and songs from their 2015 self-titled debut, and the band’s powerful message — that attacks sexism, rape, transphobia, exploitative historical figures, and more — came through as loudly and clearly at the show as it does on album. Shawna Potter shouts her lyrics in such a way where you never miss a syllable — all while putting on a wild, uninhibited performance — and often segues the lyrics right into her stage banter and vice versa. She’s as confrontational a performer as she is a magnetic one, and the rest of the band is on the same level. Guitarist Jennifer Vito and bassist Sue Werner added sharp backup vocals and contributed to the pummeling rhythm section (on this tour aided by a fill-in drummer, as their usual drummer Dave could’t make it… which prompted the band to jokingly encourage the crowd to yell “Fuck you Dave!!!”), and lead guitarist Brooks Harlan truly shreds without making any kind of rockstar big deal about it. They’re basically everything you want out of a punk band in 2019 and more, with a live show that’s just as crucial as their two excellent albums. They also had a very cool surprise in store, when surprise guest Mikey Erg ran out on stage to sing guest vocals near the end of their set:

It would be hard for any band to follow War On Women, but the reunited Jawbreaker aren’t just as any band, and they had no trouble winning over the crowd from the opening drum fill of set-opener “The Boat Dreams From the Hill” to the dark, noisy jam of set-closer “Basilica.” As illustrated in the Jawbreaker documentary Don’t Break Down (which screened at Nitehawk Prospect Park on Thursday alongside a Q&A with the band), Jawbreaker’s reunion comes with a real sense of purpose. As followers of their storied career know, Jawbreaker were one of the most beloved punk bands of their time, until releasing their more polished major label debut, Dear You, which resulted in fan backlash, “sellout” accusations, and a break-up one year later. Dear You went on to be a cult classic and influenced tons of bands whose members were just kids (or, at this point, maybe not even born) when it came out, and these reunion shows have given Jawbreaker the chance to finally play the Dear You songs to the audience the album built after they had broken up. There were surely plenty of people in the crowd who had seen Jawbreaker the first time around too, but it was clear from the bouncing around, fist-raising fans up front and the cheers throughout the whole room that Dear You cuts like “Save Your Generation,” “Accident Prone,” and “Jet Black” were as beloved as earlier classics like “Condition Oakland,” “Want,” and “Kiss the Bottle.”

Like at the past reunion shows, Blake Schwarzenbach’s stage banter was deadpanned but meaningful, often funny and sometimes poetic, like when he talked about the Mueller report and felt certain that it wasn’t what we hoped it would be, but hopeful that change could still be around the corner. He also — after being urged by a group of fans — had to help alert security to a crowd member who apparently punched a woman just two songs into their set. They successfully kicked the guy out, as Blake joked “I didn’t get out of bed at the Hampton Inn for this,” before getting more serious: “Take your lady-hitter stuff elsewhere, that’s not what Jawbreaker is about.” And then sarcastically adding, “Jawbreaker is about… emotional abandonment… a much more subtle kind of misogyny.” He paused and then added,” And I can truly say, ‘On that note, here’s our next song,'” before playing “Sluttering (May 4th).” He didn’t say as much on the topic as he did at last year’s Brooklyn Steel run, but — especially after War On Women’s opening set — the message seemed clear: any kind of toxic behavior or discrimination will not be tolerated at a Jawbreaker show.

Aside from that swiftly-handled incident, the show went off without a hitch and flew by. They truly looked and sounded like pros — it’s almost hard to believe Blake, Adam Pfahler, and Chris Bauermeister went two decades without playing together. The fast songs were as punchy as refreshing as could be, and the slower, darker stuff was mesmerizing. Even though every song in the set was between two-and-a-half and three decades old, they all sounded entirely fresh in 2019. Not every band’s catalog holds up this well, so it shouldn’t be taken for granted that they’re finally playing shows again. At a 2017 Q&A, Blake wouldn’t rule out the idea of new music, and now that their reunion is nearing the two-year mark, I wonder if they’ll start to more seriously consider it (though in a recent ‘Adulting Well’ podcast episode he talked about the difficulty of doing creative work right now due to being drained from the news coming out of the current administration). As the hosts and even Blake seem to agree on that same podcast though, their sound and message is still relevant, and this is a reunion that deserves to keep going, for the band, for the old fans, and hopefully for a new generation.

Check out pictures of the Sunday show in the gallery above, and the setlists and videos from both shows below. Jawbreaker are taking tonight and tomorrow off, and then playing more Northeast shows including NJ’s Starland Ballroom on Saturday (3/30) (tickets).

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Jawbreaker at Brooklyn Steel – 3/23/19 Setlist (via)
The Boat Dreams From the Hill
West Bay Invitational
Sluttering (May 4th)
Save Your Generation
Housesitter
Condition Oakland
Chemistry
Want
Ache
Accident Prone
Jet Black
Jinx Removing
Kiss The Bottle

Encore:
Chasing the Wild Goose (Bad Religion cover)
Boxcar
Basilica

Jawbreaker at Brooklyn Steel – 3/24/19 Setlist (via)
West Bay Invitational
Want
Jinx Removing
Chemistry
Sea Foam Green
Save Your Generation
Condition Oakland
Parabola
In Sadding Around
Accident Prone
Jet Black
Kiss The Bottle

Encore:
Ache
The Boat Dreams From the Hill
Boxcar

photos by Stephanie Augello

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