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Review: Japanese Breakfast Delivers a Danceable Energy

by Rhoda Yun

photography courtesy of Rhoda Yun

Following an underwhelming search for good Korean food in Boston, Michelle Zauner performed her sell out show Saturday night at the Royale. Zauner and her band may go by the name Japanese Breakfast, but as a Korean American, she’s devoted to the search for good Korean food along her tours.

Earlier this year, Zauner published an article in the New Yorker entitled “Crying in H Mart”, an emotionally naked and deeply personal piece where she shares about how H Mart, a Korean supermarket chain, is the only remaining door to access her heritage and fond memories of her youth following the passing of her mother.

Despite dissatisfying nourishment, Zauner along with her band, Japanese Breakfast, delivered a deeply melancholic album written following the death of Zauner’s mother with a deceptively delightful energy.

Life didn’t go according to plan for Zauner after the release of her first studio album, Psychopomp, a ode to her mother’s death and a therapeutic outlet that served Zauner during a vulnerable time during her life. The release of the album was enough for Zauner, but her music caught a fire that demanded much more from her.

Watching Japanese Breakfast perform, it’s hard to imagine that someone so bubbly could have ever gone through such suffering. Zauner’s voice, vibrant and zesty, enamored a tipsy crowd. Like commuters on the T during rush hour, the crowd stood shoulder to shoulder (sometimes shoulder to face) eager and sweaty to catch a glimpse of the indie rock princess. Luckily for them, Zauner’s gravity-defying space buns and holographic dress were hard to miss as she bunny-hopped her way around the stage, buns flapping about and what not.

Opening up with some of their more mellow tracks, Japanese Breakfast stirred anticipation for what would be a blitz of their hit songs, back to back to back. With a clear focus on vocals and the freedom to move, Zauner traded her electric for a mic, dedicating all of herself to delivering a near-studio-recording performance of “Machinist” and “Roadhead”.

After some dancing, she pacified a rowdy crowd by introducing her next couple of songs – sad songs that she established as having been written during what she describes as the most difficult time in her life.

She played “Till Death” from her second studio album, Soft Sounds From Another Planet, a tear-inducing love note to her partner who stood by her side through a difficult year. “Your embrace, healing my wounds,” she sang triumphantly as she pictured her lover. With her drummer Craig (notoriously the man with the mullet) on keyboard, she transitioned into the next song, “Triple 7”, from her first studio album, Psychopomp. Though it carries a similar melancholic weight, “Triple 7” is less of a love song and more of a confessional.

Zauner’s cover of “Lovefool” by The Cardigans was sweetest treat to break the familiar, a match made in seventh heaven. Zauner’s zesty vocals and youthful tenderness was enough to make Nina Persson proud. Despite the young crowd that night, everyone was singing along, proving the immortality of Swedish 90s pop sensation, The Cardigans.

Two albums, both chock-full of hit songs made it hard to believe that that was all it took to keep a crowd endlessly entertained. The night was a string of hits, from “Everybody Wants to Love You” to “The Body Is A Blade” to “Diving Woman”, it was hard for everyone to catch their breath in between songs. During “Boyish”, a girl was seen mouthing “I can't get you off my mind. You can't get yours off the hostess,” to her indifferent boyfriend, a frighteningly accurate metaphor for a song about unrequited love.

The warmest soul, broken by death and restored through the release of Psychopomp and the endless support that followed, Michelle Zauner is queen of packaging pain into something pretty. Zauner’s tangy mumbling of her pain-ridden lyrics left an echo that clung to everyone in the room that night, a sort of sound that sticks within the lumpy crevices of your brain and forces you to think about what it’s trying to say.

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