The best nights are those that open up gradually, like flowers blooming, a promise of beauty that manifests itself as you reach the root of the night. Seeing Japanese Breakfast, the musical project of Michelle Zauner, was undoubtedly one of those nights. After getting the opportunity to attend this concert a mere day before, my excitement is palpable. I text my best friend, a huge Japanese Breakfast fan, to break the news, and ask him what about her music makes him love her so much. “Her music just perfectly encapsulates how it feels to be laying on a field on an alien planet. It just makes me feel such a type of way. Euphoric, melancholic, excited, and everything in between.” I am then urged to listen to a handpicked selection of songs to really get me in the mood, and am flabbergasted at how rich her music sounds, wondering how it will translate to a live setting.
As the night begins, my main task is to get to the venue on time, the prestigious Walt Disney Concert Hall, home of the LA Phil. After confusion about which bus to take, and subsequently double-checking my phone to make sure I am on the right LA metro train (my first time), I arrive by the skin of my teeth, just as the opening artist, Ichiko Aoba, takes the stage. As I wait to meet my friend Miguel, who is joining me to photograph the concert tonight, Ichiko’s soft croon envelopes the entrance and the entire building. Her setlist is simple yet striking, just her and her keyboard and guitar, and her marvelous voice, singing mostly in Japanese, from which she is a native. She stands out brightly under a single stage light beam in a vast sea of darkness, in which we are ushered into our seats and enjoy the rest of her setlist. Among the songs she performs tonight are those from her album Windswept Adan, a conceptual record written as a soundtrack to a movie that doesn’t exist. After Ichiko’s setlist, Japanese Breakfast and her extensive band come out like angels, all in white, and her dress has a huge bow on the back, which sways romantically or jumps maniacally, depending on its wearer’s intention with each song.
The stage is set up with sunflowers around its edges and around its smaller raised platforms, which contain the back half of the band. There are lights between each flower, which change and shift with each song into a myriad of expressive colors that satisfy my synesthetic imagination. I let my eyes get blurry every so often as I am dazzled by the distant lights and the sounds enveloping me. The full twelve-piece band lends a beautiful interpretation of the music on stage. Every song sounds lush and full, a feast for the ears, with brass and guitar solos that swell and explode and ethereal sounds of a synth or a string solo that introduce or end each song. For “Everybody Wants to Love You!”, from her debut album Psychopomp, the lights take on every color of the rainbow, and the chant of the title in the chorus feels like an affirmation to everyone in the audience to manifest more love in their lives. “Be Sweet”, from her most recent album, the 2021 release Jubilee, and arguably Michelle’s most popular song is sung along word-for-word by the audience, as the lights take on beautiful pink and blues which flash and dance with each other as the chorus demands a lover to “Be sweet to me baby/ I wanna believe in you, I wanna believe”. For “Paprika”, Michelle is jumping around the stage and banging a massive gong at the turning of each phrase. The lyrics: “How’s it feel to be at the center of magic/ To linger in tones and words?” feel aptly like a reminder for me to enjoy the little moments in life and an encouragement to foster the creative life force within all of us.
As the setlist ends, I feel grateful that music like this exists, and even more grateful that artists like Michelle Zauner usher it into the world. A night of surprises I look back on as a gift from the universe, introducing me to the mechanics of live events, and the manifestation of one woman’s dream echoed in song all around its witnesses, with the help of beautiful arrangements and a full band to expand upon that dream. It is just another show for Japanese Breakfast and I am just another casual listener turned into a devotee.
Photo Credit: Farah Sosa for LAPhil / @farahstop (ig)