“You’d reassure me in a way you only can”, Michelle Zauner crooned as she reached out into the audience of sweaty, wide-eyed, hopeful hipsters. The line is from “Till Death”, off the sophomore album of Zauner’s solo musical project, Japanese Breakfast. Her music is like this one lyric; healing for the artist and audience as she transforms and processes her intimate struggles into revelatory art. They played a sold-out show at the Bishop on October 5th, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.
For their first headlining tour, Japanese Breakfast was accompanied by Philadelphian bands, The Spirit of the Beehive and Mannequin Pussy. The Spirit of the Beehive is more in the psychedelic rock and folk genre while Mannequin Pussy is punk rock. Though classified into drastically different genres and scenes, the bands all fit well together, a credit to all of the bands’ talent. The Spirit of the Beehive was first up and their mellow and chill shoegaze quickly changed into more intense and frenzied head-banging. Their music was mostly off their newest album, pleasure suck, which was released over the summer.
Mannequin Pussy delivered an energetic and powerful set. The mic for the lead singer, Marisa Dabice, kept dipping in and out to which she coolly replied that her stuff must be haunted, but hopefully by a friendly ghost. No matter the mic situation, Dabice commanded the audience as she wailed into the night. Their songs, “Emotional High” and “Romantic”, off their 2016 album, Romantic, were my favorites. I was not previously a big fan of punk music, but Mannequin Pussy made me feel like I was a rebellious high schooler in the 80s who had snuck out for her first underground punk show.
The woman that we love came out in a custom Pearce ensemble with white sneakers that lit up red and blue and green lights. She didn’t need the shoes to keep the audience. Zauner has an infectious presence as she jumps and smiles through her songs. Her candid spirit on the album remains on stage and she is joyful and quick to joke and poke fun at herself, or sometimes her band. Zauner’s husband joined them for the first time on this tour and they celebrated their 3rd year anniversary just a couple of days before the show. She shared that she had had to help her husband get his underwear on for the second time in their marriage on this tour, both times because his back had given out. What a trouper!
Japanese Breakfast’s highly vulnerable music is not lessened in a concert setting in the least. If anything, it is heightened. Her reflective, meaningful music is able to sound off and bring joy to so many people. It had been so personal and intimate listening to the albums on my own that I thought it would be hard to translate to a concert setting. Zauner’s voice carries so much emotion and has a way of connecting with each and every one in the audience that the whole crowd was melting for her. They played slow and quiet songs like, “This House” and super energetic songs like “Machinist” with equal focus. There really wasn’t a beat out of place even though it was so hot that Zauner said it was “probably the most she had sweat in her entire life”. Japanese Breakfast’s music is transformative and so refreshing in the indie pop genre because she doesn’t compromise for just catchy tunes or a “chill vibe”. She breathes meaning and depth into their beautifully-worked music. Her experiences through grief, heartbreak, relationship turmoil, are all personal and yet so poignant and relatable.
Favorite Songs Played: “Till Death”, “In Heaven”, “Roadhead”, “This House” – Is “Till Death” really a surprise? No! But she did come out into the audience and we made eye contact so that was really special!
If you still have a chance to see Japanese Breakfast live, do so at once!