The Minnesotans clad in in their autumn best who filled the Fine Line Wednesday night should’ve thought twice before they layered on the flannel and denim, since Japanese Breakfast’s atmospheric dream pop kept the sold-out room at a steady simmer.
The band took the stage to the bone-rattling bass of their instrumental, “Planetary Ambience,” vocalist Michelle Zauner a firm anchor at center stage, guitar in hand, flanked by Devin Craig on bass, Peter Bradley on guitar and keys, and Craig Hendrix on drums. Behind the stage a subtly animated projection of their name provided adequate band identification for anyone receiving stage-side snapchats.
During a meditative rendition of “Diving Woman,” Zauner kept the audience rapt with an expressive, furrowed brow that lent weight to her airy vocals. Layers of shimmery keys and interlocking guitars extended the song by an extra minute or two and eased the audience into a steady groove.
While the band swayed and bobbed in rhythm, riding the same spacey wave, Zauner hopped up and down and built up the energy. Long strands of hair escaped her high ponytail and soon stuck to her forehead. The band’s great chemistry is more than just musical. Zauner and lead guitarist Peter Bradley are married, and the smiles they exchanged filled that the room with warmth. Japanese Breakfast’s songs are never saccharine (how could they be when ballads include lines like “PTSD, anxiety, genetic disease”?), but the undercurrent of marital bliss was evident.
The set soon reached crowd favorite “Road Head,” and Zauner set her guitar aside to connect with the audience. She reached her heavily tattooed arms out to the front row and upper balcony in equal measure, milking the song’s long vowels for maximal effect. The bass-heavy version added extra verve to the song, while the vocals showcased just how much Japanese Breakfast does with their spare lyrics.
Downtempo tunes “Boyish” and “Till Death” were likewise given their space in the set. Even moody lines like “My ugly mouth kept running” didn’t diminish the smile on Zauner’s face as she passed the melody over to Bradley on guitar. He seemed to revel in the attention from her as much as from the audience, taking a moment to step to center stage.
Every musician brought an individual magnetism to the performance. Between his beefy beard and shimmying bare shoulders, bassist Devin Craig looked like a lumberjack on a holiday. Zauner introduced drummer Craig Hendrix as her co-producer for the latest Japanese Breakfast album, Soft Sounds from Another Planet, and late in the set he provided truly prodigious backing vocals during the band’s spot-on cover of “Dreams” by the Cranberries.
Zauner’s stage banter was light and genuinely appreciative of all Minneapolis has to offer, calling out her friends in opening local band Strange Relations, as well as a vaping tarot card reader from Eye of Horus. Even an obnoxious balcony heckler received a gracious response.
Japanese Breakfast dropped a new song called “2042” into the middle of the night, which Zauner described as “about drugs, space, and my pores.” Though no radical departure from the territory explored on Soft Sounds from Another Planet. It pushes Japanese Breakfast a little further into straightforward pop, without their usual wash of hazy synth.
Peter Bradley and Devin Craig left the stage for the spare arrangements of “Triple 7” and “This House.” With just Zauner on acoustic guitar and Hendrix on keyboard, the delicate timbre of her voice shone through with every audible exhale.
With a spirited encore of “Jane Cum” and “The Machinist,” the band’s versatility was on full display. Bedroom pop and icy Auto-tune are equally affecting in their hands. All told, their big presence and full sound makes it hard to imagine Japanese Breakfast in the smaller clubs they so recently frequented. Zauner is a performer that could easily command a much bigger room—she deserves an upper deck to soak in all that charisma.
Planetary Ambience + Diving Woman
The Woman That Loves You
The Body is a Blade
Dreams (Cranberries cover)
Everybody Wants to Love You
Overheard in the crowd: When Zauner announced they’d be playing a new song called “2042,” someone in the crowd yelled “Minneapolis 2040!” Maybe Japanese Breakfast would be a fan of the Comprehensive Plan.
Random notebook dump: While it remains to be seen how First Ave makes its mark on the Fine Line, knowing the venue is under new management made it sound better already.