This past Thursday at the Black Cat marked Japanese Breakfast's first ever headlining show. It's hard to believe considering the success of Psychopomp: Zauner's first album as Japanese Breakfast. It was an album that explored the human experience with such grace that one could easily forget the meaning of the lyrics and get lost in a lo-fi dream pop daydream.
With her sophomore album, Zauner has shown that she is capable of growth. While still dealing with life and its processes, she has made room as an artist to expand, even still. Much like Psychopomp, Soft Sounds from Another Planet begs the question of human existence, but on a grander scale. It is less personal, confronting humanity as a whole rather than through one person's reality. Zauner attributed this detachment during interviews as a method for songwriting and a way of pushing forward through the grieving process. Soft Sounds initially began as a sci-fi musical concept album about a human falling in love with a robot. If that doesn't make you realize how effing cool Michelle Zauner is, you need to do some soul-searching.
The shift to seeing a band live can sometimes be a let down, but that could not be further from the truth when discussing Japanese Breakfast. The live show breathes in a way the recording version does not. It fleshes out the narrative to the point that it makes the detached personal again. Watching Zauner dance around stage, pouring herself into her work, reminds you of her experiences. It reminds you of the pain behind her words.
Over the course of the evening, I cried three times. I let the tears fall without caring to wipe them from my cheek, eschewing the embarrassment of public emotion. This was due to my admiration for Michelle's resilience in the face of loss, but also because Psychopomp was one of my go-to albums as I dealt with the sickness and death of my own mother. Seeing Heft and In Heaven performed live took me back to the restless nights in hospitals, when I would listen to them on repeat, trying to make sense of the world around me.
That is exactly what Michelle Zauner did through both Psychopomp and Soft Sounds from Another Planet. She is making sense of the world around her. This is especially clear in songs like Til Death, where Zauner makes the listener aware of the devastating experience of loss and the impact of grief on those left behind. I am grateful for the chance to witness and be inspired by her art. Anyone who can take the unspeakable and turn it into something beautiful is an artist in the truest sense of the word.
Rogue Collective, a DC-based strings group, made an appearance, adding an element of bittersweet warmth to a few songs. Openers, Mannequin Pussy and Spirit of the Beehive, also put on good performances.
The next stops on the Soft Sounds tour will be Richmond, VA @ The National (9/9), and Atlanta, GA @ The Masquerade on (9/10).