with Long Beard
April 1, 2019 at Royale
Japanese Breakfast came to the Royale April 1st for their spring tour. Long Beard opened the night with their lo-fi music, soft strumming, and breathy vocals. The two bands have been on tour together before in 2017, playing the same songs from the same albums for over two years. When Michelle Zauner, frontwoman for Japanese Breakfast, ran on stage she gave a warm nod to her familiar opener and long-time friends. From there, she spent most of the performance jumping around stage and beaming at her bandmates while singing about genetic disease and dogs dying.
The band opened with their most well-known song, “Road Head,” a song that is heavy with synth, looped guitar, and auto-tuned hums. Later, they played “Till Death” a song off of their 2017 album, Soft Sounds from Another Planet, that takes a rather morbid perspective for a love ballad. Its opening lines, “All our celebrities keep dying, all the cruel men continue to win,” reveal Zauner’s inclination to write candidly about her dark ponderings. There’s a key change that accompanies the final verse, almost qualifying the song for some heavy-handed, melodrama soundtrack, but as Zauner lists off her fears in a fervent roar– “PTSD, anxiety, genetic disease, thanatophobia”– “Till Death” quickly asserts itself as a cathartic release from that which plagues her deepest thoughts.
“This is Psychopomp’s third birthday,” Zauner said, after performing that album’s biggest hit, “Everybody Wants to Love You.” Her bandmates then left her to perform a pared-down version of “Triple 7,” the album’s final track. Before playing, she revealed, “I wrote this song on a lot of adderall.” These brief confessions reflect Zauner’s lyrics, which carefully navigate the line between poetry and bluntness. “Triple 7” perfectly captures this talent. “How I cling to your sleeves ’til they’re like lacerated sails” she sings in one line, and the same words appear in a later verse, “How I cling to your sleeves ’til they’re all fucked beyond repair,” but lose the refined metaphor at the end to convey the song’s resignation and indignation through Zauner’s expertly honed skill.
Japanese Breakfast emerged during a wave of female artists who were infiltrating the era of male-dominated indie rock. Among those who spearheaded this trend include Rilo Kiley, who boomed in the PA system during the wait between Long Beard’s set and Japanese Breakfast. This early 2000s band clearly bore influence on Japanese Breakfast; the lyrics from “Pictures of Success:” “I’m a modern girl, but I fold in half so easily,” ran through my head when Zauner was crying out, “I’m not the one I was then, my life was folded up in half,” during “This House.” While the band played “Diving Woman,” yellow lights blinded the onlookers and gave the band a celestial aura, especially Zauner, who’s clothes reflected neon light as she moved spastically to her husband’s electric guitar playing, a moment I’m glad to have witnessed.
After playing what Zauner called “the three most depressing songs back to back” she said, “LP number three is going to be a happy ass record!” A surprise cover of “Lovefool” by The Cardigans coupled with an upbeat encore of “Machinist” ended the concert on a note of elation; so perhaps Japanese Breakfast’s tendency to create dissonance between lyrics and melodies will be resolved in this forthcoming album, although I don’t think anyone is complaining about their current devotion to incongruity.