Japanese Breakfast Review – Depressingly Great

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Singer-songwriter Michelle
Zauner brought Japanese
Breakfast to Thalia Hall

Japanese Breakfast, the indie-pop solo project of singer-songwriter Michelle Zauner, dropped by a sold-out Thalia Hall in Pilsen on Tuesday night.  Zauner and the band are masters in turning melancholy themes into breezy rock tunes.  Songs like “In Heaven,” which lyrically deals with the grief of losing a parent, have a contagious uplifting feeling that fools the listener into having a good time.  Was the crowd at Thalia Hall a bunch of fools for having a good time or do they just appreciate good music?  Let’s find out.

Zauner took the stage dressed in a “Miami Vice” inspired suit.  She later admitted that she wore it expecting Chicago to be much colder than it was.  It was a fashionable statement from a women Vogue Magazine called the “newest festival style star to watch” (the only downside being that it hid her cool tattoo sleeve). 

Zauner’s yearning voice drove most of the songs

She immediately picked up her guitar and kicked thing into gear.  The set grooved flawlessly with selected tracks from both Japanese Breakfast’s debut Psychopomp and 2017’s Soft Sounds from Another Planet.

Japanese Breakfast’s sound contains lots of fuzzy guitars, Zauner’s own yearning voice and some electronic elements. The most interesting electronic piece was a sampler that was set up next to Zauner’s microphone.  The sampler had clips of her own voice in it, so she would hit a button and a note she had recorded earlier would play along with her live singing.  Sonically it was the most interesting part of the night. 

The band played to create a spacey wave of sound

Zauner’s guitarwork isn’t in your face, she leaves that to her lead guitarist/husband Peter Bradley, but the band’s ethereal sound is perfectly blended.  While the band played to create a spacey wave of sound, Zauner commanded the stage and the audience.

Zauner’s stage present is very personable, and the crowd loved it when she interacted with them in-between songs.  Probably the best moment was when the crowd urged her to try a shot of Malort.  For those unfamiliar with the liquor, it’s a Chicago thing.  It, ironically, is a source of pride for Chicagoans while at the same time widely accepted as being absolutely terrible.  It’s so bad that one of its unofficial slogans is: “Drink Malort, it’s easier than telling people you have nothing to live for.”  Zauner was up for the challenge and accepted a shot from the crowd.  Initially, she didn’t think it was bad, but then the after-taste hit her, and she had the classic “Malort-face.”  Which prompted this hilarious tweet after the show:

The songs Japanese Breakfast perform are the key to its success.  They are expertly written, contain many themes, some haunting / some joyous.  The best of the night might have been “Everybody Wants to Love You”.  It’s a simple song about straightforward romance and is carried by Zauner’s voice.  It’s the kind of song that makes everyone feel good – nothing depressing here.

So, is Japanese Breakfast putting one over on the Thalia Hall crowd?  Are they fooling the crowd by playing depressing songs at an upbeat tempo?  Not at all.  The crowd was having a good time because the songs Japanese Breakfast are that damn good.

Photos by K. Joseph Fotos. Full Gallery from the show HERE.


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