Show Reviews

Japanese Breakfast’s Jubilee Comes To Life Onstage in Asheville

520 days came and went between Staged Haze’s last show covered before the pandemic (We saw Tove Lo’s sold out performance at The Riviera in February 2020) and our first show back in the flesh during a post-(but not really) covid world: this time, checking out the glorious Japanese Breakfast

If you don’t already know, we’ve changed things up a bit around here! Just a few months ago, we officially changed our name with the intention of keeping a sense of familiarity for our readers who have been here since the start, but to also branch out from a hyperlocal Chicago-based publication to a nationally recognized one. With that being said, seeing Japanese Breakfast’s performance this past weekend in Asheville, North Carolina was the first show we’ve gotten to cover outside of the Chicagoland area!

Friday night was The Orange Peel’s first full capacity show in nearly a year and a half: and it also sold out. If you’re unfamiliar with the venue and the city it resides in, Asheville has quietly become a booming metropolitan area of the south with a bustling culture scene: North Carolina was named the ninth fastest growing state in the country earlier this year. The city itself is located in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, featuring a wide range of “hipster” coffee shops, award-winning restaurants, outdoor activities, and more breweries per capita than anywhere else in the country, according to this article. It also doesn’t hurt that the city has 83% more LGBT-identifying people than the typical American city (this study was done several years ago, you can assume the number has increased since then). 

With that being said, it’s easy to understand why Michelle Zauner was able to successfully sell out this performance in an otherwise small city on her running list of tour dates, including stops in major cities like Chicago (a whopping four sold out shows at Thalia Hall), Los Angeles, and Brooklyn: out of the next 61 shows in America: 30 are already sold out. The venue, which holds a capacity of about 1,000 people, is a staple of the independent venue scene in the United States, once being voted as one of the best music clubs in the country, ranking at #5 by Rolling Stone. Like many of the independent venues I’ve been to in Chicago and elsewhere, The Orange Peel had a very similar vibe, but there was certainly something about it that felt a bit more quaint, more homey, more welcoming. It also may have been due to the fact that people in the south are generally pretty polite people. 

Given that we are still existing in a covid world, I was not all surprised to see a decent amount of attendees wearing masks, an ask that is not required in the state of North Carolina or in many of the states right now. I arrived with just a few minutes left of the opening act’s set: also known as a band called Mannequin Pussy (the reason why I was in North Carolina to begin with? To visit my 90-year-old grandpa. When my parents asked if I knew who the opening act was, I pretended not to know). I am somewhat familiar with the band’s music, but not familiar enough to anticipate a lot of screaming upon my arrival. The band, fronted by Marisa Dabice, had a very chaotic energy: one that was also very contagious, succeeding in getting the crowd engaged.

At just about 9:20pm, Japanese Breakfast took the stage: opting to open the set with “Paprika,” which is also the opening track on the band’s latest album, Jubilee. The song is so well-suited for an intro performance, it almost feels like the song was written for it specifically (and maybe it was), with lyrics like: How’s it feel to stand at the height of your powers / To captivate every heart? / Projecting your visions to strangers who feel it / Who listen to linger on every word. The song, which starts slowly and builds into quite the sense of triumph: with infectious trumpet melodies and steady drum rhythms that I imagine a million people gleefully marching to (is it possible to gleefully march?)

Next up was the arguably best song off Jubilee and its lead single: “Be Sweet.” If this song isn’t high up on my Spotify Wrapped Playlist, listed as one of the most streamed of 2021, I know that the DSP is a farce. I have to say that every time I hear this song, it hits me like it’s the first time I’ve heard it all over again. It’s so deliciously catchy and simple: lighthearted but not at the same time. It felt like the perfect song to hit the audience with early on, absolutely catching them off guard. 

Zauner gave a shout out her OG fans as well, performing a slew of songs from her earlier albums (“The Woman Who Loves You,” “Everybody Wants To Love You,” and several others: even a cover of a song from the band Zauner first performed in a decade ago made the list: I had never heard it). Coming from someone who wasn’t super familiar with most Zauner’s music prior to Jubilee, and even going as far to say that I wasn’t actually enjoying the songs I did know prior to Jubilee, I was pleasantly surprised to hear these songs in a new light: they were enjoyable to the point where I wanted to make sure to go back and listen to the recorded versions. This is credited to Zauner’s stage presence, who, for someone who doesn’t really communicate much with the crowd outside of actually singing, had an uncanny ability to make the audience emulate her emotions from track to track. It also helps that her vocals are incredibly sharp and accurate.

Out of the ten songs on Jubilee, Zauner performed nine of them. My favorite moments from the 18-song set included the performances of “Savage Good Boy,” “Slide Tackle,” “In Hell,” and “Posing For Cars,” the third song including a thorough description of Zauner and her bandmate writing the song after experiencing an intense mushroom trip. 

Though the entire performance was overall very uplifting, lighthearted, and positive in spirit, it felt even more so when Zauner shared this mushroom anecdote, offering one of the few opportunities to exchange words with the crowd that weren’t ones in song. This is neither a criticism or a compliment: just something to point out. It makes sense, considering the aptly-named Jubilee explores these themes of life, whereas her previous subject matter was very heavy. It was a return to form in the sense that instead of everyone thinking about how weird it felt to be in a concert venue was, Zauner opted to chat about something silly and amusing instead of reverting back to the good old “holy shit, we’re actually playing a concert in person!” An emotion that’s entirely valid, but one that will soon be trite as we continue returning to in-person events.

From our review of the album, beautifully worded by Mitch Taylor:

“Jubilee is a great album that finds Zauner taking her own personal experiences—specifically newfound joy, confidence and understanding—and resurrecting them in ways that feel theatrical. The album’s instrumentation is remarkable, with tracks seamlessly fusing jazz overlays with a throng of violins, only to switch to an electric guitar the next minute. Most obviously, the album feels like Zauner rediscovering the capacity for joy within her, which is made more meaningful because of the evolution she had to go through to get to this point.”

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