Birmingham-based indie band JAWS, known for their laid-back, dreamy surf rock, brought the tour for their critically-acclaimed sophomore album Simplicity to Exeter on Sunday 19th November, playing to an intimate but exuberant crowd at the Phoenix. Support came from indie rockers Trash, and all-female Scandinavian band Nelson Can.
Emerging confidently onto the stage to the backdrop of their name in lights, JAWS opened their set with one of their older tracks. The synth-heavy, chilled-out Surround You incited an immediate positive response from the crowd, with people starting to sing along straight away. The dreamy, dazzling guitars, reminiscent of 90s shoegaze bands, were perfectly matched by shimmering strobe lighting. JAWS followed this up with another crowd favourite, Swim, and then 2014’s single, Think Too Much, Feel Too Little, by the end of which a small yet enthusiastic mosh pit had formed in the middle of the room. My housemate and I decided that, although we used to partake in such wild teenage antics back in the day, we were now far too old for that sort of thing. Instead, we were happy to simply stand at the back and nod along, enjoying the lively atmosphere.
Frontman Connor Schofield joked about JAWS’s last visit to Exeter a couple of years ago, when apparently they played to a room of about ten people. The size of the crowd in the Phoenix in comparison clearly testifies to how far the band have come since they were first starting out (there were definitely more than ten people there), although it still had the cosy atmosphere of an intimate gig. The crowd, of mostly younger people and students, were energetic and engaged with the performance, and the band kept up a good rapport with the audience throughout, despite Connor claiming that he was better at playing songs than talking!
JAWS’s set featured a diverse mix of old and new tracks, spanning the whole of their career so far, which was nice for fans like myself who have been listening to the band for a long time but not yet managed to catch them live. With enough throwbacks to their first EP, 2013’s Milkshake, and their debut album Be Slowly, to keep the set varied, they also showcased the highlights of their latest record. The mellow, beachy vibes of Stay In and the sunny melodies of Toucan Surf elicited a sense of joyful nostalgia among the diehard fans and provided some of the stand-out moments of the set for me, bringing back memories of when I first used to listen to JAWS and the rest of the so-called ‘B-town’ bands in school. Indeed, JAWS first formed as a bunch of sixth-form-aged friends, and their first tours were supporting similar-sounding Digbeth-based bands Peace and Swim Deep. These years of practice definitely seem to have paid off, resulting in a more confident and refined live performance.
New track Cast was another highlight for me, and was also met with a euphoric reaction by the crowd, with its catchy chorus, ‘Nobody’s on their own’, easy to sing (and dance) along to. Loud and repeated requests from the crowd at one point were granted with a rendition of ’17. One of the singles from Simplicity, this track clearly demonstrates how much JAWS have matured in their sound on this album, with its sensitive and poignant lyrics ‘Don’t wanna feel like this when I’m only 17’. They have moved away from their ‘beach pop’ label to a grungier and more grown-up sound, and principal songwriter Connor has previously said that he feels he has had much more to say in this collection of songs, with the lyrics having greater depth and meaning this time around. This was also evident in other new tracks such as Just a Boy and Right in Front of Me.
Before the end of the set, Connor called out the artificiality of encores, saying that rather than going offstage and then returning, the band were going to save everyone some time and just stay put before they played their last songs. They ended in a typical fashion with long-time crowd-pleaser Gold, dragging out the finale for as long as they could to rapturous applause. Overall, the gig was a clear sign of how JAWS have progressed musically over the last couple of years, with a set that sounded well-rehearsed with a more mature stage presence, while still remaining true to their indie roots.
If you’re interested in seeing JAWS – and I would 100% recommend that you do – they are heading to Cardiff, Bristol, Norwich and many more locations for the rest of the tour. More details are available on their website.
– Nicole Gadras