Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
Japanese Breakfast bookended its concert before a sold-out crowd with "Paprika" and later ending the night with "Diving Woman." And that was about as good as it got from the quartet fronted by Michelle Zauner. The only problem was that in between, it was a bit middling.
Zauner, whose career has been on the upswing, perhaps highlighted with an appearance on Saturday Night Live in May as the much coveted musical guest, set up the show with Zaunder bounding on the stage on "Paprika." She pranced and danced about the stage while hitting a colorful gong a number of times for good effect. It seemed that Japanese Breakfast would be firing on all cylinders.
But that was not always the case as few songs ventured into the excitement created by "Paprika."
Japanese Breakfast went the pop route during its show. Zaunder is an engaging front person and clearly enjoyed the moment. A lot of songs were in the very good category, sufficiently enjoyable, but nothing reached the crescendo manifested by the first and last songs of the night. One got the same sense from the crowd. After the initial energy burst when the artist takes the stage, the crowd settled in also.
As for "Diving Woman," interestingly, what made that such a standout song was the presence of members of the veteran opening act Yo La Tengo. Lead guitarist Ira Kaplan was the tour de force here. He coaxed sounds out of his guitar with a bunch of taut licks that clearly invigorated Zauner, who said she considered Yo La Tengo her heroes. Zauner let loose musically in a way that she hadn't before either.
This was by far the most divergent song for Japanese Breakfast all night. If only they had changed it up a few more times.
As for Yo La Tengo, the long running trio of Kaplan, bassist/keyboardist James McNew and drummer Georgia Hubley, who doubles as Kaplan's wife, dished out a surprisingly musically varied hour-long set. Give credit to Japanese Breakfast for giving Yo La Tengo that much time on stage. All three took lead vocals with Hubley and Kaplan the stronger vocalists. More importantly were the musical abilities of all three with Kaplan squeezing lots of welcome sounds from his guitar. At 65, Kaplan not only looks youthful, but generated numerous very strong musical runs.
The trio caromed between songs that underscored the band's indie rock cred, but then they also knew a thing or two about venturing softer. They were seemingly were not Yo La Tengo's stock in trade, but after 38 years as a band, they also know their way around a song.
Yo La Tengo doubtlessly will never have a wide audience, but this was one show where it left you wondering why not?