Melancholic Machinist: Japanese Breakfast Live Review

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Words by Stephen Whiting

Amber lights flickered to life at the crowded the Scoot Inn in Austin, Texas as the crowd buzzed audibly in anticipation of singer Michelle Zauner and the accompanying band members of Japanese Breakfast to take the stage. The name Japanese Breakfast is rather tongue-in-cheek for Zauner who is herself half-Korean and unapologetically proud of it (chopsticks are available at the merch table).

A veteran of the indie-rock scene, Zauner originally hails from the Philly band Little Big League who then stepped away from the spotlight to aid her ailing mother. In the aftermath of losing her mother and an unfulfilling 9-5 work position, Zauner channeled her grief into creation, giving life to her first solo debut titled Psychopomp. Last year saw the release of Zauner’s sophomore project Soft Sounds From Another Planet which revisits feelings of grief through cosmic guitar arrangements processed in an artificial soundscape.  

An uptempo strumming of “In Heaven” began the set, Zauner’s cheerful delivery effectively masking the pain of her lyrics "I’m trying to believe when I sleep it’s really you, visiting my dreams like they say that angels do...". Supported by her husband Peter Bradley on guitar, bassist Devin Craige, and Kat Casale on drums, the band kept up with frantic tempo of tracks such as “Machinist” and “Diving Woman”. Zauner’s rendition of “Road Head” showcased her vocal prowess rising from a gentle hum to a swelling wail as her guitar shrieked gleefully to the lyrics “Run! Run! Run!”. Zauner took a moment to thank the crowd, recalling the first ever shows of Japanese Breakfast that were played in Austin a mere two years past.  What was supposed to be one SXSW showcase turned into seven shows that would propel the band into a fully fledged act. Taking time away from the sonic calisthenics of her early material, Zauner transitioned into a series of slow ballads such as “Till Death” and “Boyish” which recently received a self-directed music video from Zauner herself.

However, an area that still leaves room for improvement is the band's set arrangement. One observer noted the dissonance caused by polarizing slower material from more uptempo melodies which gave the impression of constricted movement as opposed to fluid rhythm. Despite the minor slowdown, Zauner was quick to leap into the ecstatic fan favorite “Everybody Wants To Love You” grinning ear-to-ear while playing a devilish guitar riff. Before the cries of the crowd faded, the band re-emerged for a cover of The Cranberries, a personal favorite of Zauner’s who she made sure to give proper tribute to with a passionate and playful performance.  

In spite of being a band for only two years, Japanese Breakfast has made tremendous growth in their following and creative evolution. Zauner bends her voice around planetary ambience in her latest work as she plays the part of a detached observer to the world around her. Embarking on a quest for solace, Zauner is also able to turn her pain into the profound echoing the lyrics of “Machinist” she sings wistfully “I just wanted it all”. And if the present is any indication, Japanese Breakfast is on an astronomical journey of success that shows no signs of stopping.


Soft Sounds From Another Planet is available here.