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Japanese Breakfast lights up the Ottobar, debuts new song

 At the Ottobar, a small punk venue on North Howard Street, Japanese Breakfast geared up to play a sold-out show and kick-off a massive six-month tour.

The dream-pop music project is the brainchild of Philly-native Michelle Zauner, who began releasing music in 2016 with Japanese Breakfast’s debut album “Psychopomp.”

Their second album, “Soft Sounds from Another Planet,” was released in the summer of 2017 and was named by Rolling Stone as one of the top 50 albums of the year.

Opening for Japanese Breakfast was Brooklyn-based dark pop artist, Emily Reo. It was easy to hear their similarities with Japanese Breakfast: the use of slow synth arpeggios, soft electronic beats and warm, echoey vocals.

“Is it alright if we play a sad song?” Emily Reo asked before ending their set with “Spell,” a six-minute track that seemed to cause audience members to disassociate. However, Reo’s live use of synth equipment to create heavy layers of sound was impressive to watch.

The musician switched between playing the keytar slung around their torso, and using a vocal effects box as well as a midi controller. Besides the occasional pause between chord changes, the song played smooth and sounded like it came straight from a dream.

After a brief intermission, the lights dimmed as the vibrant, instrumental opening to “Heaven” played. Zauner appeared on stage in an all white jumpsuit and white light-up sneakers that colored the stage as she walked.

Her futuristic outfit, which she tweeted was from Philly clothing brand, Pearce, vibed with the several space-themed songs she performed over the course of the night.

Though Zauner was small in size, her stage presence was overwhelming. At times she wielded her classic cream-colored stratocaster like an axe while bending and twisting her knees inwards.

When she wasn’t playing the guitar, Zauner got up close and personal with audience members. She bounced to every corner of the stage to touch hands and sing directly to individuals in the crowd.

A notable audience member was Lindsey Jordan, also known as local artist Snail Mail, who will be opening for Japanese Breakfast later in their tour.

During the introduction to “Machinist,” which she described as a love song, Zauner kneeled over the stage and held on to Jordan for an intimate serenade.  

Baltimore fans were stoked when Zauner announced the band would debut an unreleased song. 2042, which is the song’s undisclosed title, was heavier in sound than any Japanese Breakfast song to date. It included rougher guitar tones and less of the airy synth sound that saturated “Soft Sounds from Another Planet.”

Japanese Breakfast also played the seven-minute experimental pop piece, “Diving Woman.” This was one of the best songs of the night due to the complex guitar effects and call and response between Zauner’s vocals and the other instruments.

Though playing every song exactly as it appeared on the album caused potential for a dull show, Zauner’s liveliness made for an enjoyable performance that left the audience cheering.

The show ended with as much, if not more, energy as when it began. Japanese Breakfast will play the 9:30 Club in Washington DC on May 30 after touring through Europe. Their six-month tour will end in October.

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