Fresh off her breakthrough album “Jubilee,” there was little question Michelle Zauner and her entourage that makes up Japanese Breakfast would bring the energy on a Saturday night in Madison.
The Majestic wasn’t just energized, however. The audience soaked up every note of the performance, hanging on every syllable that came from Zauner’s microphone. It was a lot of emotions wrapped up into one night, from the excitement of Japanese Breakfast to tour fresh off an album to the excitement of the crowd to be back at a live performance.
Luna Li got the evening started, and she couldn’t have been a better precursor to the main act. Li’s music, at least live, sounds like a more experimental Japanese Breakfast. A Toronto native, she mixes the bright pop sound Japanese Breakfast fans became familiar with on “Jubilee” with a more instrumental-focused approach.
Li knows how to captivate a crowd, even one in which she likely had few die-hard fans. She sang, played violin and electric guitar, the latter of which had a beautiful butterfly design on the body. Li looked elated for her whole set, but she radiated intense joy when she played her soaring lead guitar melodies at the climax of songs.
Late in her set, addressing the crowd, Li talked about her relationship with Zauner and told a story about seeing Japanese Breakfast live several years ago. Li and Zauner are both partially Korean, and Li described how it was “the first time (she) felt represented on stage.” That elicited a chorus of cheers from the audience and was a powerful moment even before the main act came on.
When Japanese Breakfast finally did take the stage, they were welcomed with open arms from the Majestic crowd. During nearly every break between songs, someone in the audience shrieked some ardent praise, usually directed at Michelle. Zauner is clearly someone who loves engaging with her audience. She got lost telling a Madison restaurant Yelp story, then realizing she had digressed, and said “This song is about a completely unrelated matter” and instantly got back to her setlist.
Japanese Breakfast played all of “Jubilee,” and for the most part followed the tracklist order of the album. It was a true test of fandom for the crowd, but there were plenty of audience members in the front that knew every word. Zauner and her band fed off that energy and used it to elevate their performance. The show was a textbook example of the complementary energy dynamic between a performer and the crowd.
Towards the end of the show, Japanese Breakfast threw in some of their most popular material, not off of “Jubilee.” The crowd rejoiced at the opening strums of the dreamy, atmospheric “Road Head” from 2016’s “Soft Sounds From Another Planet.” Not long after that was “Everybody Wants to Love You,” an essential Japanese Breakfast track that displays their knack for catchy melodies that tug at your heartstrings. The performance of that song was particularly interesting as well. On the recording, the first line of the chorus is so far in the background you can barely hear it. It blends into the mix like an instrumental track. Performed live, it was the drummer imprecisely shouting the lyrics from the back of the stage to create the same effect. It was a smart decision that recreated the recorded sound but also strengthened the performance by adding a new voice.
Another element that strengthened the performance was the variety of instruments used and the sounds produced. Luna Li set the bar high by shredding on the violin before Japanese Breakfast even graced the stage, and when they did they kept the diversity going. Zauner kept a saxophonist and a violin player on stage her whole set. While “Jubilee” does call on those instruments on a few songs, they had contributing roles on every track, creating a denser, brighter sound.
Japanese Breakfast concluded their set — before the obligatory two-song encore — with “Posing For Cars,” a seven-odd minute ballad, and the last track on the album. As the song builds and builds, so did the energy of the performers, which was likewise reflected by the crowd. The show gave the sense that it could keep going all night long. The band could keep playing, and the audience would gladly stay and watch. For fans of Japanese Breakfast, Luna Li and the joy of live music in general, Saturday night at the Majestic was a treat.