Japanese Breakfast review: Michelle Zauner energizes a rainy Wednesday

Posted by Mike Schumacher

Get it on, bang a gong … Japanese Breakfast at the Hackney Church. Photograph: CPUK/Avalon


Hackney Church, London
Despite three prior cancellations, the composer and guitarist exudes an obvious sense of optimism


Even the most famous independent musicians cannot claim to have ever had a year nearly as successful as Japanese Breakfast’s 2021. Last year, it appeared as though the New York-based songwriter and musician, whose real name is Michelle Zauner, had the Midas touch: first, she released Crying in H Mart, which debuted on the New York Times bestseller list; then, a few months later, she released Jubilee, her triumphant and critically acclaimed third album, which aimed to inject some hard-won optimism into her thoughtful, cerebral indie rock. To top it all off, she released the music for the well-regarded independent video game Sable and was nominated for best new artist at the Grammys.


Then, when Zauner enters the stage at London’s Hackney Church, she is dressed in an elaborate all-white ensemble that falls between between lederhosen and Princess Serenity’s ribbon-adorned attire. Or maybe she’s simply happy to see so many people there on a cold Wednesday night. She informs the crowd, “We never did very well over here.” We’re delighted you’re here, but I suppose it took us canceling three performances to catch your attention.


Zauner is accompanied by a five-piece band that includes a saxophone, a violin, and her husband Peter Bradley, who endearingly jams out on keyboards and guitar like he’s the Slash in a nighttime Guns N’ Roses cover band. Jubilee makes up around half of the playlist, and although most songs sound as rich and glorious live as they do on album, a couple fall short: Without its lush brass section, set opener Paprika, which is about the exhilarating excitement of playing in front of an audience, appears subdued; Kokomo, IN also loses some of its mellifluous warmth.


Less intricate songs do well, such as the glittering 80s throwback Be Sweet and songs from Psychopomp (2016) and Soft Sounds from Another Planet (2017). The sparse arrangement of Road Head, in particular, sounds amazing when played by a full band. The song’s limited structure was expanded into a roomy, ethereal jam, while the chilly, programmed rhythm of Posing in Bondage from Jubilee is booming and alive.


In addition to making jokes about her band’s previously postponed concerts, Zauner is a charming and vivacious host, and her onstage banter is witty and entertaining. She also introduces Savage Good Boy as “a song about the 1975” after first stating that it is about the billionaire class. (Zauner worked with the group on their most recent record.) She still expects at least some kind of engagement as the event comes to a close, despite the audience being very subdued, maybe suitable for a weeknight in a church: “I was wondering if you guys could do a quick jump with me?” she says during Slide Tackle. The audience complies because Zauner still has a certain Midas touch.


Thanks to at The Guardian whose reporting provided the original basis for this story. 

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