Michelle Zauner, lead singer of Japanese Breakfast, was the picture of Marina Abramović’s “Rest Energy” on stage — except, instead of hands grasping at a bow and arrow, Zauner’s outstretched arms framed her standing microphone.
The strained embrace showed sincerity, tension, passion and pain, and was the peak of the band’s San Francisco performance Sept. 30 at The Regency Ballroom. Zauner’s physical positionality embodied the hypnotizing lyrics she crooned during her heart-wrenching ballad “Posing in Bondage.” Her performance toed the line between enrapturement and detachment, producing a liminal sensation that overwhelmed the venue with yearning. During the chorus, flashing strobe lights bewitched the stage, each moment passing by like a projector slideshow.
Zauner, known to fans as Jbrekkie, introduced herself at the beginning of the show with bold bombasity, skipping out from the wings with gong mallet in hand. She instantly began singing “Paprika,” the first song off her new album Jubilee. The mallet enunciated each line on the large brass circular plate, with Zauner’s powerful swings eliciting great excitement from the crowd — which had swelled in number as well as in anticipation leading up to Japanese Breakfast’s entrance.
“Paprika” perfectly introduced the band and set the tone for the rest of the evening — a dynamic night filled with ample animation from Zauner and vivid instrumentation from the rest of the band. Zauner’s movements were synchronized sensations to behold as she stomped her way across the stage in her over-the-knee leather platform boots. Her guitar hung low across her puffed-sleeve rose-patterned dress, and a diamond barrette topped two braids that swung with every move Zauner made.
Zauner’s ability to elicit energy from the crowd capitalized in her manipulation of her white Fender Jazzbender’s whammy bar — each wave of the vibrato sending the ballroom into a tizzy. Befitted with a saxophone and violin to complement a hi-hat heavy drummer and rowdy bassist, the rest of the five-piece group matched Zauner’s excitement by, for lack of a better phrase, absolutely shredding.
During “Till Death,” Zauner looked like an eclectic Elf on the Shelf as she perched herself on the stage’s edge and belted out her ballad, her light vibrato soaring over the swaying crowd. Zauner’s breath control throughout the track was second to none, and her sincerity was frankly tear-inducing.
When it was time for Zauner to sing “Boyish,” a greatly popular track off her 2017 sophomore album, she introduced the song’s inspiration by describing the waiter at the Mexican restaurant where she worked after college. The boy, as readers of Zauner’s recent memoir “Crying in H Mart” will know, is none other than her husband, Peter Bradley, who took to the stage as the group’s keys and guitar player. Bradley held his own throughout the evening, gracing the crowd with exemplary solos that merited adoring, vocal praise from the crowd.
After reading about Zauner and Bradley’s love story in the chapters of “Crying in H Mart,” the show lifted the page to the stage — each shared glance between the couple produced titillation from the crowd. At one point in the night, Zauner and Bradley rested their heads on each other as they strummed a concluding outro. Abramović’s piece was now a distant memory, as their two instruments mimicked the pair’s own intimacy that the crowd was privileged to witness.
Japanese Breakfast’s performance pleasantly saturated The Regency Ballroom with striking spirit, from the way Zauner commanded the stage to the enchanting extended outros that demanded intense skill from each band member. The set list showcased the group’s genre-bending range, as acoustic guitar-grounded pieces such as “Posing for Cars” were married with upbeat electric tunes such as “Savage Good Boy” that had the whole crowd jumping. The entire night from start to finish was a breathtaking ode to Japanese Breakfast’s journey as a group, and it beautifully celebrated Zauner’s deserved success.
This was joy, this was Jubilee, this was Jbrekkie.