Besides selling out four straight nights at Brooklyn Steel in Brooklyn, NY this weekend, Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast has had an impactful year. In fact, it’s hard to imagine an artist who’s had a more prolific year than Zauner’s having in 2021.
Before releasing her critically-acclaimed third album, Jubilee, in June, Zauner had already earned widespread acclaim as an author with the April release of her New York Times bestselling memoir, Crying in H Mart. Additionally, Zauner composed and released a 32-track score to the video game Sable, which saw a release in September. To see Japanese Breakfast perform in 2021 is to see an artist play at the top of her game— but it’s only one of the games she’s at the top of.
“How’s it feel to stand at the height of your powers?” Zauner asked on “Paprika”, the opening song of Japanese Breakfast’s Saturday night set at Brooklyn Steel. It’s a fitting question to ask if you’re having a year like Zauner’s.
“Paprika” is also the opening track of Jubilee, and while much of Japanese Breakfast’s first two albums examine grief from Zauner’s personal life—the same grief Zauner details in her memoir—Jubilee sees Zauner setting her sights on joy. That joy was palpable at every step of Japanese Breakfast’s Saturday set, especially during “Paprika”, when Zauner reveled in her ecstatic lyrics between whacks at a massive gong.
Plenty more joyous moments came throughout the set. Zauner beamed through a cover of Dolly Parton’s “Here You Come Again”, which flowed seamlessly out of “Kokomo, IN”, a twangy, Wilco-inspired Jubilee track. Later in the set, a rendition of the fan-favorite “Road Head” saw the band giving the ambient, loop-based track a makeover of instrumentation—complete with a trio of horns, a vocal sampler, and bass thumps so heavy they could’ve been 808s—for an extended jam.
Even more somber moments in the set were tinged with not-so-hidden joys. The onstage chemistry of Zauner and her husband/bandmate Peter Bradley was apparent, the two sharing knowing looks and performing several songs—including the achingly gracious “Till Death”—facing each other, playing at dual keyboards.
Still, it’s Zauner who stole her own show throughout. After dazzling performances of “Slide Tackle” and “Everybody Wants to Love You”—complete with balloon drops from the Brooklyn Steel ceiling—Zauner returned to the stage to perform Jubilee’s closing track, “Posing for Cars”. An arresting meditation on intimacy, Zauner began the song alone before her bandmates rejoined her one-by-one—Bradley first—to build the song from delicateness into the devastating showstopper that it is, ending with a piercing guitar solo from Zauner. With lights dim over the band and leftover balloons at their feet, the encore had the intimacy of the quiet end to a party, with only the closest friends sticking around to pick the balloons up off the floor.
It was a fitting almost-ending (the band wasn’t done before a jam over the shoegazey “Diving Woman”) to a set led by Zauner, an artist with an impossibly wide range of success content to celebrate in the small happiness of making music with loved ones.
Below, check out a gallery of images from the Japanese Breakfast performance at Brooklyn Steel on Saturday, courtesy of photographer Chris Ritter.
Japanese Breakfast will continue its fall tour next week with several shows in Texas, including a Halloween performance at Stubb’s Austin. Following a slate of shows in Arizona and California throughout November, Japanese Breakfast will take some time off before heading out to Europe in March 2022. Head here for a full list of tour dates, tickets, and more information.