Full disclaimer: Jubilee, Japanese Breakfast’s latest record, is far and away my favourite record of the year. There was simply no way that I wasn’t going to enjoy this show. Jubilee is expansive, bright, and invigorating – a stunning masterpiece of pop music, to be certain. I can now confirm that it feels the same way in a live environment.
After a lovely opening set from Luna Li – who absolutely shreds, by the way – Japanese Breakfast walked on stage to much fanfare. Against the backdrop of their wonderful custom lighting set, the band took their places on stage and readied themselves – frontwoman Michelle Zauner grasped a gong mallet in her hands, foreshadowing what was to be one of the best moments in live music that I’ve seen.
“Paprika” was the first song of the night. The aforementioned mallet was put to good use as Michelle Zauner theatrically struck a large gong during the song’s chorus, sending the crowd into a fever pitch. “Be Sweet,” perhaps the most shamelessly groovy track on Jubilee, followed. If the crowd hadn’t already been dancing by then, they certainly were now. Other upbeat highlights from Jubilee that the band performed that night include “Kokomo, IN” – which I like to imagine will become the gold standard for slow dance songs – “Slide Tackle,” and “Savage Good Boy.” Something that I’ve noticed about Michelle Zauner ever since I first saw Japanese Breakfast in 2017 is her tendency to stomp and bounce around the stage during high-spirited tracks. That hasn’t changed one bit – her stage presence remains every bit as electrifying. The audience could tell that she was having the time of her life, and they fed off of it accordingly.
While most of the setlist was dedicated to the band’s new album, they made sure to play their previous hits as well, such as “Everybody Wants to Love You” “The Woman That Loves You,” and “In Heaven.” The setlist was also full of slower songs, which made for some gorgeous moments of peace and sentiment amongst an otherwise high-energy show: “The Body is a Blade,” “Road Head,” and of course, the endlessly romantic “Boyish.” Zauner also traded her guitars in for a vintage keyboard for a few songs, such as “Tactics” and a surprise cover of “Ballad 0” from her quarantine-project BUMPER, on which she was joined on vocals by drummer and producer Craig Hendrix (who also has a great voice – let him sing on the next record please!)
If Japanese Breakfast had ended the show on “Everybody Wants to Love You,” I would happily have gone home warm and contented. But when Zauner returned to the stage alone and began to play album closer “Posing for Cars,” I knew we were in for one hell of a grand finale. So just imagine how far my jaw dropped when the band transitioned from “Posing for Cars” into “Diving Woman.” Both songs are sprawling slow burners that slowly build up, gradually adding additional layers that culminate in an overwhelming extended breakdown. Combining the two songs makes perfect sense once you give their similarities any amount of thought, but I simply hadn’t noticed it! If there were ever a way to bring the house down, that two song run was it.
Between writing one of the year’s best books (which could be getting a film adaptation soon), releasing one of the year’s best albums, and soundtracking a video game, 2021 is undeniably the year of Japanese Breakfast. This is Michelle Zauner’s world, and we’re just living in it.