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Friday, January 28, 2011

Forgetters Reignite Jawbreaker-Caliber Angst at Bottom of the Hill

Posted By on Fri, Jan 28, 2011 at 8:11 AM

The Forgetters at Bottom of the Hill last night. Pics by Rae, whose camera broke upon arrival, leaving us no choice but to subject you to Blackberry photos.
  • The Forgetters at Bottom of the Hill last night. Pics by Rae, whose camera broke upon arrival, leaving us no choice but to subject you to Blackberry photos.

January 27, 2011

@ Bottom Of The Hill

Better than: Living under the false hope that Jawbreaker are going to reform one day.

There is a moment, a couple of songs into Forgetters' set tonight, where all the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end, a light flicks on in your brain, your mouth drops open and you think "Holy shit, this sounds like an out-take from Bivouac!"

For the non-Jawbreaker-obsessed amongst you, Bivouac was the Bay Area trio's second full-length -- a dark, noisy affair that spends as much time on intricacy, layers, and melody as it does on distortion -- a record now widely considered a punk rock classic. For a Jawbreaker fan, songs that sound like Bivouac are basically the Holy Grail -- so please understand that when we make the comparison, we don't do so lightly.

After Jawbreaker imploded in 1996, frontman Blake Schwarzenbach went on to the significantly less visceral Jets To Brazil, a life on the East Coast, and a job as an English Literature professor working in New York. Today, Jawbreaker fans -- who are as enamored and obsessed as ever with the band, for the most part -- are almost entirely resigned to the fact that the trio is long gone. And after Jets To Brazil and subsequent project The Thorns Of Life, the world pretty much gave up on Schwarzenbach writing anything as sharp, as disconsolate, or as gut-wrenching as he did with Jawbreaker.

But tonight, Jawbreaker's shadow is looming large -- and not just because they will forever be closely woven into the fabric of Bay Area music. It's in Swarzenbach's dedication of a song to his ex-bandmate, Adam Pfahler (who -- in case you don't already go in there and stare at him like a giant nerd -- opened The Mission's finest video store, Lost Weekend, after the trio's demise). It's in the samples -- Margaret Thatcher speaking in Parliament and a harrowing description of dolphin suicide (no, really), among them -- which start bluntly and run directly into, and then under, songs (a signature Jawbreaker move). It's also in the slow building of each song's performance -- tracks that creep up on you quietly and gradually roll themselves into gigantic threats looming over you. It's in the undercurrent of unabashed melancholy, shrouded in pointed articulation, on display here.

More than anything, there's an edge to Swarzenbach's performance with his two new bandmates tonight that has been absent for years. You might have thought his inherent darkness long-buried, but tonight proves it was merely in hibernation. One example: he gives, unannounced, directly before a song, a super-fast, word-perfect recital of the passage in Hamlet in which Hamlet's dead father describes being murdered by his own brother.

To give another example, the wonderfully-titled "Too Small To Fail" -- recently released on the Forgetter's four-track, double seven-inch -- is a fine enough song on record; understated in its beauty. But tonight, it clubs you over the head, all drum fills and crescendos and dangerous levels of angst. By the time Swarzenbach has descended into howling "Someone's gonna love me someday" at the end, it feels very much like falling into someone else's nervous breakdown, which was always part of Jawbreaker's inherently masochistic appeal.

The bottom line is that all those things we all loved about Schwarzenbach fifteen years ago are still there, and he's unabashedly putting them out there once more. It's honest and ugly and beautiful and awesome and it's about time.

Critic's Notebook: The line "In the trenches between the patrons and the booze" (song title unknown) is the most wonderful and succinct description of bartending I think I've ever heard.

Also worth noting: Schwarzenbach tells the audience he is currently working as a bartender in Brooklyn ("I have a Masters degree and I'm a bartender"). We will give ten bucks to the first person who can tell us which bar it is. No, seriously, we don't know, either. We just really wanna go.

Fun Trivia: Forgetters drummer Kevin Mahon once played in an early incarnation of Against Me!.


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