Women really are making the best rock music around right now. The excellent piece that The New York Times put out last week is one hundred percent on the money, and Friday night’s sold out show at Strange Matter was the perfect evidence.
Japanese Breakfast is the solo-project-turned-band of the extremely talented Michelle Zauner, vocalist for Philadelphia’s Little Big League. On tour for their stellar most recent record Soft Sounds from A Lonely Planet, they brought two Tiny Engines Records bands and fellow Philadelphians: The Spirit of the Beehive and Mannequin Pussy.
Tiny Engines has been killing it recently in terms of putting out really great new music. So even if I didn’t already know the openers, I could’ve predicted something awesome was in store the the night.
The show opened with The Spirit of The Beehive hidden behind a thick veil of fog. They rolled through both warped and (relatively) normal versions of their already off kilter sounding tracks with precision and energy. Trading lead vocals between their guitarist Zack Schwartz and bassist Rivka Raved, Spirit hit some on some guitar tones that made me of a melted cassette tape of Sunny Day Real Estate’s Diary combined with some beautiful hazy and shoegazey fuzz tones. I had been excited to see Spirit for a few weeks and they definitely did not disappoint, their set sounded to me like the aural equivalent of conquering the end of a bad high, complete with all the anxiety and release that comes with it.
Next up in the bill of bands was Mannequin Pussy, another band I was finally able to catch live after trying to see them for quite awhile. Driven by the songs and presence of singer/guitarist Marisa Dabice, they started as a hardcore punk duo and grew over the past few years to their current quartet format.
Referencing many disparate influences and forming them into a sound that’s all their own, Mannequin Pussy commanded the stage and left the crowd in the perfect sweet spot of wanting just a little more. They sometimes sounded like they were channeling Melvins and Bleach-era Nirvana and throwing it together with a sassier, harder edged Lizzy Mercier Descloux pouring their heart out on stage. Dabice, their singer and guitarist, ended the set by throwing down their guitar and screaming the words to the final song crouched down by the front of the stage on their knees.
I had taken a needed break after Mannequin Pussy’s emotionally intense but absolutely fantastic set, and walked back inside after smoking. I found a spot and squished in the sold out crowd, trying to make sure I could see without blocking anyone else. While I was waiting, I noticed two tall and relatively muscley college dudes push up from behind me and force their way directly in front of two girls who were both at very least an entire head shorter than them and had been waiting since the beginning to see Japanese Breakfast. Immediately when they did this, the girls and the crowd around them’s reaction was to right the wrong and push these jerks back out of the crowd. No one wanted their inconsiderate attitudes. This gave me big smiles, and I can’t help but think part of the reason was because it was at this show. I am so excited to see rock shows and albums that are FOR women and non binary people BY women and non binary people. It’s much better than the dumb age old rock trope of songs ABOUT women by men (and honestly for men too).
Closing out the night with an ethereal but hard hitting set was Japanese Breakfast. I had extensively listened through their new record, but hadn’t delved back into their debut, Psychopomp, so I was probably not as prepared as some of the fans at the show, but I was absolutely delighted when she started it off with the Built To Spill channeling slow build of “Diving Woman.”
During her set, I was reminded of my first time listening to some older Modest Mouse and Rilo Kiley songs in my tween years, and also occasionally another recent musical obsession of mine, Philadelphia’s Hop Along. I was definitely treated to a number of the best songs from the new record, but hearing the older music interspersed between those tracks really made me catch glimpses of Zauner’s evolution as a songwriter. She is someone with a very unique sense of composition, lyrically and musically.
She often touches on spaces of being in limbo or in between two things we commonly see as opposing, while her words explain the nuanced feeling being both things at once. I feel like that’s really what I loved most, Michelle Zauner picks being an artist and musician first and foremost over picking a genre or sound to use define themselves.
No matter whether she is singing through an autotuned mic and triggering samples on her keyboard, or slamming chords on her guitar and yelling call and response vocals with her bandmates, Japanese Breakfast sounds like her music.
It’s always so nice to see an artist less concentrated on creating a genre sound and more concentrated on sounding accurate to themself, whatever that may mean at the time. Seeing this set was a reminder of how our art and our music reflect our complexities as humans, but our language and binaristic way of defining things consistently allows us to fall short of explaining this.
Check out photos by Craig Zirpolo below:
The Spirit of the Beehive