Michelle Zauner’s solo work under the guise Japanese Breakfast has been overwhelmingly, if not entirely, inspired by the death of her mother. And yet her live performance at The Sett Tuesday night told another story — one of joy and triumph.
When opener The Spirit of the Beehive began their half-hour set, the crowd consisted of a measly 50-some guests, half of whom were sitting at the back of the venue. As the first act of the night, The Spirit of the Beehive had a simple task: Bring the lifeless audience to a level of excitement fit for the main act.
They failed. Sure, the band was technically talented, but their music faded to background noise for conversations among friends about the highs and lows of their days. Characterized by vaporous guitar riffs and vocal-less interludes, The Spirit of the Beehive droned on for the majority of their set. Each song blurred into the next, and monotony took over. As their set ended, the energy in the crowd vanished.
Then, as if a mad-scientist had found the secret to reanimation, Mannequin Pussy — the second opener of the night — sent out a jolt of energy that reanimated the motionless crowd. Frenetic energy stunned the crowd into a punk-fueled mania. Proto-moshpits sprouted up throughout the crowd. The audience that once consisted of roughly 50 people nearly tripled in size. Standing room became a hot commodity for those anticipating the following set.
Between songs, Mannequin Pussy’s vocalist, Marisa Dabice, called out to the crowd, “Who here knows what they want to do in college?” After a dismaying response from the audience, Dabice continued. “Drop out! Don’t become a prisoner of the state and debt! Drop out!” The sentiment seemed to be the perfect combination of her punk sensibilities and perfectly sound logic. A round of screams of agreement followed immediately after. The crowd now filled the room, and they were more than ready for the main act.
Zauner and her accompanying bandmates began the set with the first track from her latest album, Soft Sounds From Another Planet, immediately followed by first track from last year’s Psychopomp (which marked her debut as Japanese Breakfast). The rest of the set, despite the somber content of many of her songs, was filled with upbeat, synth-backed guitar ballads.
Zauner’s stage presence was a force of its own. At one point she described how she felt shitty about her performances after spending a day getting stoned and watching Freddie Mercury videos. Zauner pointed out Mercury’s incredible ability to run around stage not missing a single note. Limited by her mic stand, Zauner wasn’t able to run around stage as Mercury would, but she stayed true to the music — sounding as good, if not better than her recorded tracks.
Lightening the mood even further, Zauner constantly joked and told stories ranging from the day before, prior tours and her time at the all-girls Bryn Mawr College.
“Instead of bars on campus and rock climbing walls, we had a lot of girls in capes,” Zauner said.
Zauner’s bandmates left the stage two-thirds of the way through her set. The lights dimmed as she dove into a slew of mellow tracks from Japanese Breakfast’s two albums. The tempo slowed down, and fans’ transitioned from vivacious body swaying to gentle head nodding.
Her set straddled the line between energy and sincerity. “Road Head” gave fans the chance to bounce recklessly. “This House” gave them a chance to step back and think. As the finale, “Machinist” wrapped all the emotions up in a beautiful auto-tuned package.
“There’s no encore because we have to go streaking through the quad,” Zauner joked. The set was over; the audience erupted with praise.