2021 is officially the year of Japanese Breakfast.
Michelle Zauner is the musician, author and director behind Japanese Breakfast. And, somewhere in between releasing her first album in four years, Zauner managed to pen a memoir, “Crying in H Mart” that debuted at No. 2 on The New York Times’ Best Sellers list, and is now full speed ahead on a tour that takes her well into 2022.
Japanese Breakfast kicked off their “Jubilee” tour with a sold-out show at the Fillmore Silver Spring, the venue’s second show since reopening. Supported by Mannequin Pussy, the bands previously toured together back in 2017, where their D.C. stop at the Black Cat cost less than a 24-oz. can of Truly at 2021’s reunion show.
With a setlist that heavily favored their most recent release, Japanese Breakfast launched into the album, beginning chronologically with “Paprika” before quickly following with “Be Sweet,” which was met with earnest applause and haphazard harmonies from the buzzing crowd. With Beirut-like horns and percussion laying the framework, Zauner’s dreamy vocals floated atop the chords in perfect synchronization. Bouncing on beat around the stage all night, Zauner’s soft smile did not budge for a single moment.
Getting carried away by the heat of the moment, it took Zauner nearly five songs before she paused to introduce the band. “We’re Japanese Breakfast,” she shouted, “it’s so great to be back!”
And it was. Marisa Dabice, front woman for Mannequin Pussy, who could hardly hold back her tears during their opening set, called out early on, “Yell if this is your first show back!” and was met with deafening shouts. For many, this was their first show in over a year, and all the typical minute annoyances at concerts — semi-aggressive pushing, obscured views, the bouquet of B.O. — were hardly a bother. Even the achingly familiar post concert limp out of the venue was a welcome reminder of the events I used to frequent.
Japanese Breakfast’s sound is incomparable — even just a few introductory chords of their songs spark instant recognition from their fans. From the iconic openings of “Machinist” or “Road Head”, the cosmic melodies provide a warm and complementary backdrop to Zauner’s silvery vocals, which occasionally needed to stretch to hit the higher range of notes peppering her most popular songs.
The songs from “Jubilee” and its companion tracks provided for the warm welcome back into live music we all craved. Despite the upbeat, synth soaked, reverb heavy energy on “Jubilee”, Zauner’s past albums are dominated by more mellow anthems, the latter ultimately winning out in regard to the show’s dialed back tone. Despite the sold out 2000 person crowd, Japanese Breakfast somehow managed to create a feeling of intimacy in a room full of strangers.
After playing a few stripped down tracks, Zauner flipped the mood by calling out, “this one’s for those we wished died in space!” before launching into the unmistakable auto-tuned forward intro of “Savage Good Boy”, whose music video almost literally encompasses the theme of “eat the rich”. Zauner has never been one to shy away from complicated subjects, with past albums touching on themes of loss, her Korean-American identity, as well as the science fiction laying the foundation for some of her songs. It’s no surprise that she’d take a stab at the villainy of billionaires, as well.
Gratitude, however, was the overwhelming theme of the night, with Zauner graciously closing out her set by acknowledging every single person who helped bring this tour to fruition. Gesturing to the crowd, she proclaimed, “You are why we are here,” before strumming the intro of “Posing for Cars”. Two spotlights shined on Zauner, and the band faded away into the background. She crooned the romantic ballad into the swaying crowd, until her vocals melted away, leaving a trailing string of instrumentals, until Zauner’s expertly played distorted guitar solo took over to express what words couldn’t.
Disjointed echoes of “encore, encore” overwhelmed the room in a cacophony of excitement, until the band quickly returned to the stage to close out the show with “Diving Woman”. With instrumentals taking over halfway into the song, Zauner and her husband and bandmate, Peter Bradley played the final guitar riffs, pressed together, forehead to forehead, sharing soft triumphant smiles.
Although it’s been a decent amount of time since the band last toured, Japanese Breakfast showed no sign of ever having stopped. With their contagious energy and optimism lighting up the stage, Zauner provides sonic and visual evidence that the crowds grow as you grow as well.
Enjoy this piece? Consider becoming a member for access to our premium digital content. Support local journalism and start your membership today.