Japanese Breakfast - Hare and Hounds, Birmingham
The elephant in the room when describing Michelle Zauner’s album Psychopomp is her mother’s sad death in 2014, a loss embedded in its story of old relationships and new projects, including Japanese Breakfast itself. Some shows punctuate solemn music with bright anecdotes, but Zauner’s night and day contrast is more granular, a sparky optimistic voice between and during songs invites tonight’s full pub venue crowd to smile along without interruption. There's no archness as she opens with her album’s only tracks definably about her loss, ‘Hush’ and ‘In Heaven’.
Tonight’s running story between songs is, fast food chain Nando’s. Britain’s grateful for multiculturalism softening our bad food stereotype, and American Zauner cheekily recalling taking her vegan tour manager to a local outlet gives a sense of patting us on the back. The dry wit continues, “A person’s right in the light of the disco ball wearing glasses and it looks like they’re either, just the one for me, or they’re trying to kill me.” Her kind face, which like the best books tells people she’s reading them more than they’re reading her, gives the game away that she’s joking. Just in case.
In the three-piece band, tall framed Craig Hendrix on bass is spectacular in his orange t-shirt and wide moustache, the very best of the 1970s. Hendrix and Zauner’s vocal to-and-fro on ‘Everyone Wants to Love You’ is terribly addictive: everyone wants to join in! Bassist and drummer leave (“Bye bye. You’re fired! This is what happens when you go to Nando’s.”) for a solo version of ‘Triple 7’, allowing the crowd its clearest insight into the performer’s integrity of mood and thought, and tellingly receives the warmest applause. It's a reminder Zauner conceived her album along, in her words, “country and folk lineages” but its end result is a "psychotic pop sound". Genres like plots are useful tramlines, but stories – the words and music – matter.
Matching her all black outfit and tied back short black hair, Zauner wears never-out-of-fashion classic black Doctor Martens shoes. No band needs rescuing from music snobs – because music snobs are the worst – but to some The Cranberries have never been in fashion, corrected by Zanuer’s perfect cover of ‘Dreams’, her vocal and facial range replicating the antecedent dream-poppers’ frontwoman Dolores O'Riordan with a hairbrush in front of her bedroom mirror. The final song ‘Machinist’ describes “falling in love with a robot” but is Poliça more than Kraftwerk, and perhaps references Park Chan-wook’s fittingly playful yet serious film ‘I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK’ as Zauner walks into the crowd, eyes fixed down on her stylish but practical shoes. A brave end to an all too short 35 minutes show. Last one to Nando’s is it!
The Woman That Loves You
Everyone Wants to Love You
Dreams (The Cranberries cover)