Stephen Pennell watches a Brummie mainstay.
Along with their mates Peace and Swim Deep, Jaws were at the forefront of the B-Town scene which briefly threatened world domination in the early 2010s.
After a few gigs at places like the Adam and Eve, a series of legendary performances at parties in Digbeth, and a few seminal short-run singles and EPs, Peace signed a huge deal with Columbia, Swim Deep were signed by Sony/RCA, and Jaws… well, Jaws were always the bridesmaid, never the bride.
For some reason they never struck a major chord with a major label, or even the wider demographic that includes the likes of me, so it was with the famed nonchalance of the B-town bands that I greeted the news that I had landed a ticket to see their show at Digbeth Institute on Saturday night.
As someone who simply never shuts up about Peace (ask anyone), you can tell how little I’ve talked about Jaws over the years by the fact that when I told my wife I was going to see them, she thought I was off to the Mockingbird cinema for a night of shark-themed seventies nostalgia. But something has breathed new life into the band, and with sold-out shows in Manchester and London behind them on this tour, Jaws attracted another capacity crowd to their hometown show.
Me and my mate somehow managed to resist the sweet sounds emanating from DJ Sainy’s Northern Soul night up the road at the Big Bulls Head, and went straight into the gig, largely because we were looking forward to the support acts; Grime king of Kingstanding, Mayday (who we sadly missed), and Tarju Le‘Sano, who we saw, and was excellent. Kudos to the Jaws fans, by the way, who were remarkably supportive of the unusually diverse and imaginatively curated undercard.
It all contributed to a real party atmosphere when the band took the stage and opened with Looking/Passing from their new album The Ceiling, released only a month ago but with which their loyal supporters already seemed familiar. The set was peppered with established fan favourites from their first two albums, like Think Too Much, Feel Too Little from their debut album and Right In Front Of Me from 2016’s Simplicity, but it was the new stuff that really set the pulse racing. Please Be Kind is a fantastic song, a sign that the band have stopped gazing at their shoes for long enough to write an accessible chorus to go along with their introspective lyrics and thrillingly good musicianship.
Thanks mainly to the new album, the overall sound is more varied than it used to be; riffs that John Squire would be proud of are still there, but they alternate with fuzzier, heavier motifs, more reminiscent of T Rex and Slade at their best – sometimes, as in the case of the brilliant Do You Remember, in the same song. Similarly, front-man Connor Schofield’s voice switches from a powerful rasp to a distant echo, depending on the mood of the song, be it the acoustic feel of January, the dream-pop of new album title-track The Ceiling, or the pulsating drum and bass-propelled rock of Driving At Night.
Things got all wavy and ravey on the ultra-modern trance-pop of Feel and its near-neighbour, Fear, and the crowd responded in kind, generating the kind of energy that would save us all a fortune if it could be harnessed to the national grid.
The band played eight tracks from the new LP, and I can honestly say I’ve never been so impressed by a collection of songs I’ve never heard before. They had at least one guaranteed sale, no doubt whatsoever, and from the crowd reaction everybody else had already bought it. They finished with the title track from their debut album, Be Slowly, and although most of the crowd and band don’t look old enough to remember it, we couldn’t let them go without revisiting the heady days of 2013 anthem, Gold, if only to give someone in the crowd a chance to let off their last smokebomb.
I arrived as a jaded sceptic and walked out as a fan, clutching a copy of The Ceiling and trying to find out about the after-party. Barry Nicholson of the NME summed up the B-Town phenomenon better than I ever could, and over half a decade later I’m still jealous of his prose: “Some scenes come roaring out of the traps; B-Town seemed to roll out of bed, insular and uncontrived, smirking at its own in-jokes, smelling faintly of K cider and intent on nothing loftier than the pursuit of a laugh.”
Jaws have grown up a lot since then, and although they might still be in pursuit of a laugh, this was the kind of breathtaking performance that forces you to take them seriously.