The evolution of a musician includes both their growth as an artist and as a person, and this is especially true for Japanese Breakfast, aka Michelle Zauner, who became involved in indie rock early on, playing in bands and handling music bookings at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania.
Since then, Zauner’s expressive complexity has grown. Most recently, she showed off her great music-producing ability at this year’s Day In Day Out festival, where she performed heavy hitters from her repertoire like “Road Head” and “Everybody Wants to Love You.”
The design elements of its performance are impeccable. In previous performances, Zauner has worn clothes by Issey Miyake, Simon Rocha and Sandy Liu. During her DIDO set, she wore a graphic t-shirt layered over a puffy yellow skirt and incorporated instrumental flourishes into her songs, including one of a Zildjean gong, which she effusively smashed with a mallet during “Paprika.” . Zauner’s voice rises and strains with the kind of emotional fullness that accompanies passing through deep grief. Her entire performance exuded a glowing golden energy.
I once met Zauner in person, just before the pandemic when she was playing at my college in Western Massachusetts. The evening was cool and damp, and a crowd of 300 people gathered to watch the Japanese Breakfast show. Zauner seemed polite but sure of himself; she had done her own makeup, with streaks of blue eyeshadow, and wore a dress inspired by qipaoa classic Chinese silhouette.
We exchanged items of relative sentimentality. She gave me a “Japanese BreakQuest” sweatshirt from the merchandising table, and I gave her a signed copy of Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, then writer-in-residence at my liberal arts college. I asked Zauner about an upcoming album, and she told me it was about “finally feeling happy.” A year later, the soaring “Jubilee” was released. Last weekend, Zauner embodied the sunny quality of this album. She was smiling, ecstatic and jubilant on the festival stage.