From the moment she stepped onto Athens’ 40 Watt stage, Michelle Zauner captivated with her easy, self-assured energy and verve. Donning a white jumpsuit with winged shoulder pads, she could have been mistaken for an angel even before she started singing, and I am confident that I was in the majority when I fell in love over the ensuing hour. She played a set that peaked and relented at the perfect moments, delighting the tightly-packed crowd seemingly just by being herself. Cute, whimsical, and raw, she interacted with the crowd in a more personal way than many artists, responding to intermittent shouts of “you’re doing great!” with sincere appreciation, quipping at one point “Athens is just like a self-help book.” She reiterated several times that the night was Japanese Breakfast’s debut in Athens, and sang the town’s praises, fostering a sublimely warm and intimate atmosphere.
In my opinion, the live version of Japanese Breakfast was much more arresting than the recorded version of Japanese Breakfast. The soundscapes even more lush, the bass lines even more grooving, the excitement palpable – Zauner expended much of her energy at the beginning of the show jumping around during “Machinist” and “Road Head,” at one point sauntering between opposite corners of the stage and leaning down into the audience, eliciting wild cheers. She even graced the people of Athens with a new song, “2042,” guitar-driven and relatively subdued. Obviously enjoying herself, she confessed between songs that this was a “dream come true” before the lights faded from purple to blue and she said endearingly “we’re gonna play some quiet ones if that’s…chill.” When the bassist and drummer quietly disappeared, the silence emphasized the chattier people in the crowd, but when Zauner’s voice pierced the air with “Till Death,” it quickly shut everyone in the room up. She went on to play “This House” to an engrossed audience, continuing a trend of playing songs mostly from her slightly fuller sophomore album “Soft Sounds From Another Planet,” released last year, but Psychopomp was also well-represented. Zauner dialed the energy back up with “Rugged Country” and appropriately punctuated her set with the head-bobbing, feel-good “Everybody Wants to Love You.” Perhaps for being such a well-behaved, positive audience, Athens was treated to what was apparently “the second encore we’ve ever done”, in which Japanese Breakfast played the rockin’ “Diving Woman.” And just like that, an ethereal, euphoric concert experience was capped, but the sound of Zauner’s haunting voice blanketing the atmosphere is still ringing in the back of my head, to my absolute pleasure.
All photos by Harper Bridges