Japanese Breakfast | Live Review & Photoset

16th May | Thekla

Photos: Charlotte Christine

Fear of Men craft wonderfully atmospheric and melancholic pop, the type that chimes industrially in parts and twinkles within dreams in others. Live, the sound is piercingly clear in parts and sadly restrained in others. The drums snap with velocity, while Jess Weiss’ voice is arresting it its clarity, her hypnotic yet tangible lyricism balancing a sense of dreamy nostalgia and striking realism.

The guitar wanders within its own space, lingering and arching within a muffled temperament. Weiss bows and sways to each drum snap and melodic wave, as if controlling the gravity around her with a head bang or sudden wave of her hands in a performance piece. Yet the addition of a fourth member on synth does little to build on their layers apart from slightly distort them, and the guitar would be more impactful if not cuddled under a blanket of flat reverb.

Yet their songs are at their best when Weiss picks up a guitar, adding an enhancing dose of intensity, allowing the lead guitar to subtlety mellow out and explore more impressionistic textures. ‘Alta/Waterfall’ is the highlight, beginning in stark solemness before bowling into a sharp, striking dream of wanting to be with someone completely and hoping they feel the same. “Show me there’s no world outside our own,” Weiss sings with tender admission.

Michelle Zauner is dressed vibrantly, as if one half extraterrestrial and the other a futuristic pop queen, bedecked in full white and light-up high-tops to boot. It fits Japanese Breakfast‘s music, sporadically glowing and spritely and pure in its honesty. A triple salvo of ‘In Heaven,’ ‘The Woman That Loves You’ and the warbled whirl-funk of ‘Machinist’ succinctly introduces new listeners to Zauner’s ethos – bright, undoubtedly fun yet intensely lovelorn and personal.

The older songs retain their special relevance. A lot of tracks from her first record, Psychopomp appear like old friends reunited or warm memories slightly faded in the mind. They jaunt around the stage with a skip, Zauner’s voice aching and more scratchy than on record.

“What are England’s general feelings towards Cher?” Zauner inquisitively asks to a mixture of laughs and cheers from the engaged crowd. She has a real command of the crowd, joking constantly in between songs about a matter of subjects, whether it be about how she’d wished she’d made something of her chance meeting the founder of Mars 1, or how the next album is going to effectively be promoted by a sordid affair she’ll have with either Jon Snow or a member of The 1975. She’s hilarious and completely grounded, and shows just why her music is so human. “The only thing that would make this better is if you were all dressed as sailors; that would’ve completed this.”

What’s great about the group live is that they lose none of their vibrancy and are able to augment the mellower songs with a tenacity. The middle of the set focuses more on the sauntering, dulcet moments of her catalogue. ‘Boyish’ twinkles with a rasp, the harmonies between Zauner and her guitarist are delivered lovingly and with as much exasperation as if first sung. They emote a sense of childlike wonder and heartbreak in equal measure.

It’s beautiful, stark and iridescent, showing the underlying power of Zauner’s songwriting at its quietest and most personal in what’s been a wonderful powerful performance.