Japanese Breakfast | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN
Where it Started: Japanese Breakfast comes home to Union Transfer, with many friends in tow
Sunday night, Michelle Zauner performed at Union Transfer, fronting her acclaimed indie rock band Japanese Breakfast. You may have seen her there before.
“I fucking used to work coat check here,” Zauner told the audience as she gazed into the sold out crowd at UT. As she spoke, a white Fender Stratocaster dangled from her shoulders. Japanese Breakfast had just opened the show with “Diving Woman,” and reality had just started to set in for Zauner. Tonight’s show was her first hometown headlining show at the venue where she used to work, and she estimated that approximately a third of the audience were her friends and family. She said it made her a bit shy. Throughout the night Zauner talked extensively about her Philly roots; in addition to working coat check at Union Transfer, her entire band is from Bucks County, she graduated from Bryn Mawr college and she recorded both Japanese Breakfast albums in Philly.
After “Diving Woman,” JBrekkie eased its way into “In Heaven,” the lead track from Japanese Breakfast’s 2016 debut album, Psychopomp. Throughout the show it became clear that Zauner isn’t just a great singer and songwriter. She’s a great performer too. When she wasn’t playing guitar, she danced around the stage with the mic and engaged with the audience, breaking down the fourth wall between the band and the sold out crowd. Highlights of the night included the band’s rendition of “12 Steps,” from 2017’s Soft Sounds From Another Planet, which Zauner explained was about meeting her husband at 12 Steps Down, a subterranean bar in South Philly.
The band played several other songs from Soft Sounds, including “Road Head,” “Machinist,” and crowd favorite “Boyish,” the latter of which Zauner called “an ugly girl anthem” about not feeling attractive enough in her own body. The show also featured a variety of songs from Psychopomp as well, including “Heft,” “Rugged Country” and “Triple 7.” While performing the latter, Zauner broke into a coughing fit and had to take a brief break to take a few sips of water. For most bands, it would have been an awkward onstage occurrence. But if it made Zauner nervous, she didn’t show it. It was just her and keyboardist Craig Hendrix onstage at the time, and the two turned it into a moment to joke around and interact with the crowd. “You got this Michelle!” several audience members shouted out in support.
When Zauner regained her composure, she surprised the crowd with an impromptu reunion of Little Big League, bringing band members Ian Dykstra, Kevin O’Halloran and Deven Craige as they took to the stage. Together they performed “Yeah of the Sun House” and “Lindsey” to close out the set. However, after a wardrobe change, Zauner came back out with Japanese Breakfast for an encore of “Everybody Wants to Love You,” which she performed wearing the hanbok dress she also wore in the song’s music video. Sam Cook-Parrot of Radiator Hospital, who sang the hook on the album version, was on hand to belt it out live for the delighted audience.
RadHos opened the show with and New York’s LVL UP, both of whom provided powerful high energy sets to warm up the crowd for the night.