Concert Review: Japanese Breakfast @ 9:30 Club (5/30/18)

Japanese Breakfast (Photo by Julia Leiby, from FB @japanesebreakfast)

Japanese Breakfast returned to DC with a high-energy show at the 9:30 Club.

On a warm, steamy, humid night in DC, Japanese Breakfast played to a sold out room. Their fans were eager to sing along, dance, sway, and laugh with Michelle Zauner and the three other members of the band. With two full albums to work from, they divided the 17-song set fairly evenly, along with one new song (“2042”) and a cover to close out the night.

When listening to the two full-length albums by Japanese Breakfast, there’s a heavy air of dream pop to them. We’ve noted in this space the way that the debut and sophomore albums differ, the growth and expansion from the early sound, but in the live setting, some of that inwardness is traded in for loud, frenetic energy. The first song of the night, “Planetary Ambiance”, lulled the crowd in with that dreaminess, and “In Heaven” maintained a similar feel. But the third song of the night, “The Woman That Loves You”, which was described as “a song about robots”, woke everyone from the dream with loud, dance-y music. Zauner jumped all around the stage, and even down into the front of the crowd for this one. A statement was made: this would not be a calm night.

The next couple songs, felt much more pop inflected. “Machinist” and “Road Head” are both from the newer album, Soft Sounds from Another Planet. It made sense that way as that album takes a more expansive stance, moving step-by-step away from some of the more inward sounds and tones. I wouldn’t call the album poppy, but with the energy of the live room, these songs came off that way.

A few songs later and another member of the band began to stand out. The bass player and guitar player were good and seemed very happy to be there. They brought some charming energy to the edges of the stage. But on “Rugged Country” and, a little later, on “Till Death”, the drummer proved himself not just adept at his instrument, but he brought some very arresting harmonies to the music. I can’t say for sure if he was genuinely that good, or just proved the right harmonic counterpoint to what was almost exclusively Zauner’s voice, but he was very good last Wednesday night.

For two songs near the end, the rest of the band left the stage, leaving just Zauner and the drummer (apologies for not having his name handy), who took up at the keyboard and provided backing vocals as well. It was just two songs, but they made a beautiful and haunting coda before the rest of the band came kicking back in for the end of the show.

For encore, Japanese Breakfast pulled out “Dreams”, a Cranberries cover, still haunting in the remembrance that Dolores O’Riordan is no longer with us.

Through the entire show, Zauner proved up for engaging with the audience. It took a few songs, but she recounted stories about having come to the 9:30 Club as an opening act, never believing she would be headlining a show there, not to mention selling the place out; about her manager censoring her swears in her newsletter; asking for the disco ball to be turned on; explaining how “Diving Woman” was meant to be her version of “She Works Hard for the Money”; and more. It didn’t overwhelm the show, but it kept things light and fun.

Japanese Breakfast is good. Without a doubt, this band has mined certain past sounds and paired them with lyrics both personal and expansive, and done so in a way that sounds like both a buried treasure and a brand new gem. And as a sign of strength or versatility, the live show sounds as special, distinct, and unique as the albums. It’s another side to a multi-faceted band and one you should seek out when you have the chance.


Planetary Ambiance
In Heaven
The Woman That Loves You
Road Head
12 Steps
Rugged Country
The Body Is a Blade
Till Death
This House
Triple 7
Diving Woman
Everybody Wants to Love You


Dreams (Cranberries cover)

Author: Mathew Harkins

A writer and editor in Washington, DC.

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