A Night In with Tigers Jaw

Tigers Jaw's Studio 4 Livestream showed me that they're on the verge of something really special, 'concerts' can still be fun during quarantine, and the Sixers have trouble holding leads

The first time I saw Tigers Jaw was in 2010 at The Fire in Philadelphia. It was about a month before they released Two Worlds, they were still pretty firmly a Scranton band, I was a freshman at Temple University, and the thing I remember most was that the tiny little room moved in waves back and forth, rather than anything resembling a circle pit. They opened with “The Sun,” I got pushed in the surge forward, then pushed back, then pushed forward, then pushed back, and it went that way for about 45 minutes or so. It was great! I found some old pictures on an old blog. My friend Noah is circled in red, my friend Andrew is circled in blue. If you look closely, I’m the ear, hair and sweatshirt hood behind Noah about to take a knee to the face.

The next time I saw them was at The Fillmore here in Philly. I think they were opening for Manchester Orchestra but my memory is a soft cheese. At this point in 2017, they had gone through some pretty major personnel changes and released a few more albums. And at 25, I was much less into the idea of being covered in other people’s sweat and I think I watched them mostly from the bar area.

The last time I saw Tigers Jaw was Friday night, at home, sitting at my kitchen counter with headphones on, because they were streaming a show from Studio 4 just a few miles up the Schuylkill River in Conshohocken, PA, as the first installment of what I assume will be an ongoing series produced by Friend of the Blog Will Yip. While I was watching from the comfort of home and sweatshorts, I was thinking about how weird it was, but at the same time how familiar a lot of it felt, and how weird it was that it felt so familiar.

Yes, you know, ALL OF THIS is pretty damn far from normal, but we’re adapting to it. And despite the energy of this “concert” being the opposite from any of the countless shows I’ve been to in my life, there were still some constants that shone through unexpectedly. Some things that transcend the difficult circumstances. I’ll get to more of that in a minute.

The show reenforced for me how very good Tigers Jaw are, first and foremost. There’s a reason they’ve stuck around as long as they have when so many of their colleagues have hung it up. And not a lot of bands have made it far with one of their major players leaving the band to pursue a hip-hop career. No one would’ve blamed them for calling it a day, starting different projects, etc. 2014’s Charmer, the last album with guitarist/vocalist Adam McIlwee (now DBA Wicca Phase Springs Eternal) and other former members of the band, sort of felt like a last hurrah. One last opportunity to literally and figuratively get the band back together. But then in 2017, by this point chugging along as a two piece of Ben Walsh (guitars/vocals) and Brianna Collins (keyboards, vocals), they released spin with Yip. Despite it having significantly fewer human resources, it still was a major label debut, and it was still very good.

Emo Writer of Record Ian Cohen described the band’s path forward pretty well in a 2017 Pitchfork review:

Charmer sounded like a bold reconfiguration, but compared to spin, it was a dry run. The perspective and songwriting of Brianna Collins and Walsh have matured; at the very least, the band now has a clearer idea of what Tigers Jaw 2.0 is meant to accomplish. spin is 12 confident, minor variations on the Tigers Jaw style that withstood the past three years—the jangle of old indie rock, the stylization of new indie rock, and the simultaneously introspective and community-minded concerns of the fourth-wave emo bands for whom they’re something of an authority figure.

If spin was the first glimpse at Tigers Jaw 2.0, last night’s show was the full debut. The unveiling. The running into an old fling while you’re with your new partner and you’re both happy as hell. Yes, I am doing great, thanks for noticing. This was a band that has its footing, not just now with a concrete lineup and the promise of exceptional music on the way. The older songs they did play, fresh with new perspectives and years of experience, show a band that understands it’s past, has made necessary tweaks, and knows exactly where it’s going from here. If I were a betting man I’d say they might be on the eve of their best work.

This was a band making a jump.

Obviously, a lot of that comes with age. Walsh has simply gotten better at singing. He’s reigned in some of the warbles of the first couple albums. His guitar playing is tight. His haircut looks great.

They’ve revised some of the arrangements. Some were subtle tweaks, some more transformations. At first, I hardly recognized “Danielson,” which was my favorite song from the ‘06 split with Balance and Composure. And, not to spoil too much, but reworking “Never Saw It Coming” as a bedroom pop solo song and switching the vocals to Collins changed the song completely in the best possible way. It was like how George Lucas said he always wanted to add all those CGI bells and whistles into the OG Star Wars movie, but just couldn’t at the time, except for this didn’t suck ass. I think this was how the song really was intended, we just didn’t know it.

The guitar tone is polished and full. The equipment is more expensive. This was a professional band in a professional setting putting on a professional show. There’s no doubt that having the symbiosis that comes with a locked down (no pun intended) group has made a difference.

And I was watching from my kitchen counter in sweatshorts.

I started doing what I used to do when I’d cover shows for JUMP or XPN—jotting notes down on my phone, keeping track of the setlist, and hoping enough of it makes sense tomorrow.

I looked at it again the next morning, and thought it was kind of funny in stream-of-consciousness format rather than trying to do an actual show review (which I tend to hate. It’s clunky and oddly formal trying to work through chronologically, and the opener is usually relegated to a sentence about how they “set the stage with some cool jams” and “got the audience excited for the main act”).

The opener for the night was Gladie, who did, in fact, set the stage with some cool jams and got the audience excited for the main act (as far as I could tell in the chat). Gladie is the new project of former Cayetana guitarist/vocalist Augusta Koch, and they were supposed to support the band on an IRL tour.

I was and am a big fan of Cayetana, so when Gladie released Safe Sins in February just before the world stopped, I was really excited. It’s a deeply engaging display of personal songwriting, familiar for Cayetana fans, but set over a noticeably different color palette than the power pop of Cayetana, and it’s still one of my favorite releases of the year.

But, truth be told, I didn’t get to turn on the livestream until they had finished their set. (Thankfully I could re-watch the next day and it was unsurprisingly fantastic.)

So, at the time, I was faced with a video screen counting down about 10 minutes, forced to watch the fast-paced embedded group chat next to the video player. I realized that I was basically doing a form of what I did at shows in real life in the Before Time—waiting (sitting, rather than standing), drinking (water, rather than beer) and getting unfairly annoyed listening to people talk around me about the show.

My thoughts from the time of the show will, from here on out, be listed as bullet points verbatim from my notes app.

  • People in stream are discussing the last time they saw Tigers Jaw and what songs they hope they’ll play (Warn Me). It’s the new one, bet they will.

At this point I joked (to myself) that I should check out the merch table, because there actually were shirts and stuff on sale for this. I thought that was a nice touch. I also thought about how the home viewing experience made me look like less bad killing time before the show reading Reddit comment threads on r/soccer, which I have also done in real life around real life friends like a real asshole.

  • I’m tempted to join the live chat just to say SEE YOU IN THE PIT I MEAN CHAT.

I actually ended up sending that as an Instagram DM to my friend who was also watching. No official word on whether she thought it was funny or not.

Finally the “lights” went “down” and this home video style interludes. I was impressed by how magically they had recreated the beginning of the show moment even while I’m sitting at a 2010 Macbook Pro in my apartment. That’s no easy feat to pull off.

  • Damn, very cinematic opener. Nice job, team.

They opened with “Plane vs. Tank vs. Submarine” from the first album. Throwing a bone to the fans, but it really did take on new life with this era of Tigers Jaw, which I’ll join Ian Cohen in calling Tigers Jaw 2.0. Maybe I’ll call it Tigers Jaw WOW or New Tigers Jaw.

  • It’s cool to hear how the old songs have aged and gotten better with this band. Good production helps. But there was a minute where things felt ill-fated after Adam said he was leaving. But they’re proving me, and probably others, really wrong right now. They sound tight as hell.

They did sound tight as hell. Hat tip to the Yip team’s production, but the credit really goes to Tigers Jaw here. I was really having a good time watching this. It was genuinely the closest I’ve felt to the chemical reaction of a concert in god knows how long. I don’t even remember how long. Time is a flat fuckin’ circle or whatever.

I was having fun, but I wasn’t having the MOST fun, based on the live chat fans. I kept having to stop myself from trolling by saying “what song is this?” with every song.

  • One thing this is missing is the drunk guy in the audience yelling ‘freebird!’ One guy did keep trying to get Jon Simmons’ [from Balance and Composure] attention. He’s in here somewhere. Oh shit it worked he responded lol.

  • Maybe it’s because I grew up with a dad who worked in TV, but I’d love a camera angle showing Will running the board. I like looking over at the guy running the soundboard sometimes.

  • The camera thing makes for more eye contact than I’m used to at shows. But it’s kind of nice. What’s up guys? You sound great.

Every few songs, there would be another little video interlude, and it felt like watching a tour DVD or something. Lots of shots of the band in the van, in the venue before shows, in bars hanging out, general tour adventures. And it made me very sad not only for missing live music, but missing going inside of places with my friends where we could be closer than 6 feet apart.

  • I’m kind of questioning the low-fi video quality here, though. This probably wasn’t filmed on some Mini DV camera in 2007.

  • One guy in here asked if anyone else is on acid, and everyone else chimed in with what they were drinking. One guy is especially stoked on Miller Lite.

Well, there’s the drunk guy I thought the show was missing.

  • I think I missed a meme in the chat, cause when they did start to play “Warn Me” everyone said “war me.” Inside jokes already in this thing. This would probably be annoying IRL.

I’ve said it before on Twitter, but “Warn Me” really is as perfect as a pop punk/indie rock song can get, I think. The hook is huge. The drums hit hard as hell (those floor tom fills, man). The whole thing. Hearing that the day it came out made me excited for Tigers Jaw in a way that I hadn’t been honestly since 2010 at that show at The Fire, anxious to hear all of Two Worlds. Right now, Tigers Jaw is not a band reclaiming its former glory or getting back on track or just treading water. This is a band getting better and better, and sight unseen I think the new album could be a high water mark for them. To quote my favorite TV character, I stand by.

  • One guy in the chat with the name Kid Rock says “this song rules” but I don’t think it was really him.

Also, unlike other shows in the past, I was able to keep up with the Sixers on TV. The last time I could do something remotely close to that was before a PUP show at Union Transfer. The Sixers were playing the Raptors in the playoffs (fans know how that one ended), and I watched the end of one of the games the Sixers won with the guy standing next to me. Their guitarist Steve Sladkowski came out in a Raptors jersey (being from Toronto ‘n all), and got that good ol’ Philly welcome for it. Sixers fans know he had the last laugh here. I won’t pick that scab.

At this point, with the second half under way, Tigers Jaw whipped into what I think, after “Warn Me” is the best song they’ve written post-Charmer - “June.” Sung by Collins, it stands with “Fake ID” by Joyce Manor with pop punk/emo songs that feel like it’s just one long, relentless hook with no break, and I mean that in the best possible way. It’s one of the most gratifying songs in their catalog.

  • Before “June” even ended people started “yelling” [typing] for them to play The Sun. Well guess what idiots they’re playing Test Pattern.

That didn’t stop them from apparently breaking things in their houses, like lamps. I guess they were starting little at-home circle pits? I bet they weren’t, though, since they were typing things out. Hard to type accurately and destroy your living room.

  • Damn, Houston shortened the lead to 14. Harden’s got 27 on the night. Fuck, now it’s only 11. Hold the god damn lead!

  • God damn, Will Yip has some nice drums. Holy shit this is Danielson? I can hardly recognize it. I love this song.

“Danielson” was far and away the highlight of the whole show for me. As I said in my show notes, I have always loved that song. It’s one of the songs I’d play for someone if they had never heard Tigers Jaw, because I think it pretty perfectly captures their whole thing. Big open strummy chords, driving melody culminating in a huge relief of a chorus. Contrary to the cold open of the original version, this live one started with just drums, and the jangle of the guitars felt extra ‘90s alt rock but with the best production value money could buy.

  • I used to want to make a Tigers Jaw drinking game where you have to drink any time they say “friends.” This song was the “Thunderstruck” of that.

  • It’s kind of fun experiencing something about shows I totally forgot about, where you hear someone near you tell their friend what song is coming next based on a chord or tone they picked up, or they just say “fuck yeah dude” because they know what’s coming.

  • They have to sell this in some capacity, right? As a dvd or an album or both? It’s too well produced to just be a one-off. Or maybe we’re just so used to no live music that we want to cling to something and make it permanent.

  • I haven’t watched like any livestream concerts in lockdown. I just haven’t felt that drawn to any. Actually, not true, I watched Perfume Genius do Fallon kind of, and that was cool.

  • Oh boy, “Carry You Over” has that long “we’re almost done here” outro.

It’s funny how there are certain things you can pick up about shows. The outro to “Carry You Over” did have that extended, OK one last lap before we call it quits vibe to it. Enjoy this now because we’re done in a minute. That kick before the last leg of the race.

And with that, as I predicted, we got to the closer with “Never Saw It Coming,” in its new, easy listening-esque form, and I really can’t state enough how well it works. I wish I could link it to prove it, but you’re just going to have to believe me. Imagine a pre-recorded little drum beat on a keyboard, and then just keys and vocals alone. And rather than the campfire singalong cadence of the original, this was much more rigid. If there were real drums, a four on the floor would work.

  • Damn, “Never Saw It Coming” really works as a bedroom pop song and switching the vocals to Brianna was such a good call. I’m really glad I watched this.

  • OK Sixers up 21 with 2 minutes left in the third Holy shit that’s the end? Power move. It’s 10:54. The screen just went black after showing them all waving at the camera. There’s gotta be an encore. The fans are going nuts. The Sixers are up 24. A spinning wheel just appeared on the screen. Is this it? Just like a real show, until the lights come on and people leave I won’t trust that it’s really over.

  • Damn I guess that’s really it!

  • Sixers up 34 at the start of the 4th. Time for bed I guess.

There it is.

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Today’s Snakes and Sparklers musical guest is The Goodbye Party.