It was an evening of warm sincerity among performers and an intimate yet sold out crowd. Meg Duffy, a.k.a. Hand Habits opened the show and immediately connected with the crowd. Duffy’s lively and engaging repartee between songs drew a variety of responses from the audience. From their questioning the legitimacy of the phrase “No Etiquette Connecticut”, which of course was immediately debunked, to their claim that their dad was in the crowd, he wasn’t it was just a really supportive male fan, it was one of those nights that felt real and in the end a bit special. Duffy and their borrowed beige Fender Strat (from Michelle Zauner), which matched their similarly toned oversized sport coat and pants, captivated a hushed audience from the outset. Apparently, Zauner had tweeted prior to the start of the show that the crowd was to be silent during Duffy’s set or “…I will kill you” but the well mannered audience needed no reminder on how to behave.
They played some familiar songs from Wildly Idle (Humble Before the Void), their debut full-length album under the Hand Habits moniker, as well as a few from their forthcoming release Placeholder. This album is going to land on a lot of year end lists and thrust them into the media spotlight they so deserve. Duffy warned of the absence of a sprawling guitar solo that exists on the album version prior to playing “Can’t Calm Down”. One of the two singles they’ve released so far, it’s a beautifully crafted song of minor and major tones that ebb and flow as Duffy posits their doubts and worries about a life once lived. Seeing Meg Duffy in their element as a solo artist was a wonderful experience and I look forward to hearing them perform with their backing band as Hand Habit proper. They are a remarkable talent indeed.
Japanese Breakfast, the band not the asian mealtime, was up next. Hot off her now infamous “Over/Under” for Pitchfork and Song Exploder episode for “Boyish”, Zauner and company continued their tour of sellout shows. Known for her fashion forward outfits Zauner opted for a 90’s grunge look complete with plaid black and yellow checkered pants rolled up high to show off her shiny black Doc Martens. Opening the show to the driving beat and synth loop from “Diving Woman” Zauner took to the mic and breathed the opening lines “I wanna be a woman of regimen. A bride in her home state. A diving woman of Jeju-do.” So much of her personal story can be found interwoven in those 3 simple lines. Or perhaps not so simple if you delve deeper, which I will leave for you to do on your own since this is a review of their live show. Next up were two tracks released prior to 2017’s breakout album Soft Sounds From Another Planet “In Heaven” and “The Woman That Loves You” off of 2016’s Psychopomp and 2014’s cassette only release entitled American Sound / Where Is My Great Big Feeling? Once again, the titles and lyrics of these tracks offer insight into Zauner’s autobiography of love and loss that has dominated much of her recent music. “Road Head”, a crowd favorite, perhaps for reasons other than the melody, was up next and had the capacity crowd drawn in. The initial guitar licks and opening lines of “You gave road head. On a turnpike exit” took hold of the crowd and didn’t let go until after the final encore and decidedly danceable “Machinist”.
Following “‘Til Death” as she swapped out her electric for an acoustic and much of the band exited the stage, Zauner delivered a heartfelt address amid sporadic strums. “I’m so scared of saying anything” to which an audience member shouted “No” in an reassuring manner. She chuckles nervously and continues, “I just feel like we’re living in a time that’s very challenging to be vulnerable and I’m just so grateful to look you all in the face and have something real with you here. It really means a lot to me and I feel so so lucky to be here.” After a swell of applause receded, Zuner’s strumming became more consistent and she closed her eyes before delivering the opening lines to “This House”. Still with acoustic in hand and now with drummer Craig Hendrix on keyboard and backing vocals, the pair performed an emotional rendition of “Triple 7”. Almost as if this release of emotion yielded great energy and a need to lash out, the band returned to the stage along with Meg Duffy of Hand Habits to perform a cover of Nada Surf’s 90’s anthem “Popular”. The evening drew to a close with an excellent cover of The Flaming Lips’ “Race for the Prize” and the aforementioned Machinist dance party.
It was a night of rising stars and big love in a little state. Check out Hand Habits live if you have a chance and their new album due out in March on Saddle Creek. Japanese Breakfast continue their east coast tour into May before heading to Europe this summer.
Japanese Breakfast Setlist:
- Diving Woman
- In Heaven
- The Woman That Loves You
- Road Head
- 12 Steps
- Boyish (Little Big League song)
- The Body Is a Blade
- Till Death
- This House
- Triple 7
- Popular (Nada Surf cover)
- Everybody Wants to Love You
- Race for the Prize (The Flaming Lips cover)