Japanese Breakfast @ Natural History Museum in Los Angeles, CA
Photography & Review by: Steven Ward
Amongst the many exhibits within the Natural History Museum, Michelle Zauner, aka Japanese Breakfast, took the already mystifying atmosphere of the museum’s First Fridays event night to giddy levels. Playing on an elevated stage to a crowd that filled the entirety of the room, the sight of Zauner and her two bandmates being flanked on all sides by the inanimate forms that stood behind the glass panes of the North American Mammal Hall was already eerie enough–and then they started playing. There was something curious about the ways in which Japanese Breakfast’s lo-fi pop rumination on love and life mingled so bizarrely with the quiet majesty of the motionless mammals that stood around them. Zauner operates with an air of eased intimacy that makes quick fans out of listeners, and that’s before they’ve even had a taste of her hot-blooded guitar licks. Even if she hadn’t been playing inside one of the coziest venues in Los Angeles, with its dim lighting and low-ceiling hall, her tracks ooze all the comforting melancholy and hazy candor of bedroom-recordings. With all the rapport of watching your friend’s band play at a local bar or house-party, Japanese Breakfast had us hanging on every word within the first few songs.
Sonically, there’s very few bands emerging right now that can hold a candle to the sublime intricacies of Zauner’s electric pop experiments–and that’s because, despite an apologetic need to categorize, it’d be remiss to limit Japanese Breakfast by labeling them a lo-fi, experimental pop project. Layered so that every sound is given its five-seconds of limelight, there are no fillers, no unnecessary moments of trite, hackneyed melodies; both in the studio and live, her meticulousness translates into a harmonization of raw moods and rugged endurance that feels like it was conceived in a single, unscripted and impassioned run-through.
With a backdrop of smart percussion drives and dreamy synths that wanes and fades, but is a focal point in creating that poignant sense of familiarity, the main act is of course comprised of her cutting vocals and guitar dazzling. Playing through an array of favorites from her debut album Psychopomp, Zauner dually awes on songs like “Everybody Wants to Love You” with glittering riffs and her radiant yowling, while the less jangly “The Woman That Loves You” reverberates on more 80’s pulsed synthetics and subdued guitar glows, relying on her crystalizing shouts to deliver an air of wistfulness. Offering up a new song to the enamored crowd, in a rare move Zauner lifted her guitar from her shoulder and stepped-out from behind her microphone. A slow-burning track that saw her utilize the controversial tools of auto-tune and vocal distortion in a blissfully purposeful way, Zauner danced and spun to the organic percussiveness and thumpy-beats of their new song. As if the new tune wasn’t enough, Japanese Breakfast also gave a lustrous cover of The Cranberries “Dreams,” because of course they did–and yes, for those that were already swooning over Zauner, her angelic, soft-footed reenactment of Dolores O’Riordan’s croons left you floored in an an amorous stupor.