Japanese Breakfast impresses with melodious guitar, whirling bass grooves, and a cover of The Cranberries “Dreams”

 By Shirley Griffith

June 11, 2018

On Saturday, Japanese Breakfast sold out the Neighborhood Theatre with support from local bands, Faye and Dollhands. Japanese Breakfast is the brainchild of Michelle Zauner, who gained traction as the vocalist/guitarist in Philadelphia indie band, Little Big League. Japanese Breakfast was formed as a way for Zauner to musically channel the turmoil and pain of watching her beloved mother fight against cancer (which you can read about in this touching piece Zauner penned for Glamour in 2016). Although there is an underlying tone of melancholia to Japanese Breakfast’s sound the darkness manages to form its own exuberant dance along the edges creating an actualized, special beauty out of despair.

Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast. Photo by Justin Smith

Bounding onstage, Japanese Breakfast ripped open their first song, setting an electrifying mood of possibility and optimism in the room. Donning signature light-up shoes, Zauner’s creativity and innovation seem like gifts from the future or, at very least, outer space as she easily flits between the intimate and the otherworldly. The set grooved flawlessly with selected tracks from both debut Psychopomp and 2017’s fragrantly ethereal Soft Sounds from Another Planet. After bouncing through “The Woman That Loves You,” Zauner was full of air kicks and stage saunters while the band beamed the audience into “Machinist,” a nebulous, disco-laden track pulled straight out of a forgotten ‘80s science fiction film. Guitar tones creepily gathered together into spacey tendrils and entwined with the caress of floating synths on “Road Head.” Melodious guitar and whirling bass grooves bloomed carefree in the darkened room so that each song became its own poignant moment in a dizzy sonic bouquet.

The band’s technical prowess was consistently impressive and they displayed an undeniable star power, especially since they had just driven that day from Bonnaroo—easily a six-hour trip under an unforgiving hot sun. Zauner took a moment to discuss Bonnaroo, which she was clearly still reeling from, as she had been involved in the Tom Petty SuperJam, Into The Great Wide Open. Playing with Sheryl Crow and being backed by The Watson Twins, she dubbed herself “an indie Cinderella story” all culminating to the moment when Sheryl Crow called her cute.

Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast. Photo by Justin Smith

The perfect song for untreated angst, “Boyish,” began with roars of approval from the crowd. The dreamy, mystical track pulls the listener into a closed-eye, full-body sway magnetized against the emotional chords and deep heart of the drum. The band left Zauner to perform two solo tracks, “This House” and “Till Death,” allowing the set to breathe with a cosmic serenity. The band navigated back on stage to steer headfirst into “Diving Woman,” the sailing intro song to Soft Sounds from Another Planet before closing with glistening, triumphant “Everybody Wants to Love You.”

Responding to an overwhelming plea for more from the crowd, the band closed out the night with an encore cover of “Dreams” by The Cranberries, which was so incredible I wrapped my arms around my best friend and sang unabashedly along to Dolores O’Riodan’s euphoric yodels.  

Check out the remaining 2018 tour dates for Japanese Breakfast.

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