This was the second of two sold-out nights at Cambridge, MA’s The Sinclair in the Boston area, proving how much of a rousing success this musical vehicle for Michelle Zauner has been. But first, a bit before her adored solo project Japanese Breakfast would take the stage, Radiator Hospital opened the show up. This is a bit of a cult favorite around certain parts of Pennsylvania’s DIY scenes (and abroad, I’m sure), but their vocals have always been a point of contention for me. They have this way loose, yelping quality that just takes me out of it a bit, but I can’t deny the tightness of their performance or how clearly musically competent they are. Even before I fully realized or remembered that the lion’s share of their catalog’s been released by Salinas Records, I did think of it as Salinas-style pop-punk--that is, smarter than the average bear of the style.
LVL UP was next. Again, this is a band that’s been on my radar for a while but never quite clicked for me. It’s objectively well-done stuff, though, riding an interesting line between indie rock and power-pop. And hey, their last album came out on Sub Pop, so they’re clearly doing something right. They also have a very egalitarian approach to the frontman concept, as they have three rotating lead vocalists who would each have a turn at a song before the cycle would start again. I do remember them playing one song I half-like: “The Closing Door”, which opens their Three Songs EP co-released by Double Double Whammy and local flagship Run for Cover Records. The band actually announced they’ll be breaking up not long after this show, so it’s cool I got to see them one last time at least.
Japanese Breakfast played what appeared to be a short intro video on the screen behind them but turned out to be a constant little background video while they played. They kicked it off with the ultimate mood-setter, “Diving Woman”. The band she plays with is very tight and her voice naturally sounds quite good live.
“2042” was a new-ish song about living on Mars in a small community, continuing the sci-fi themes that emerged on last year’s aptly titled Soft Sounds from Another Planet. She mentioned Elon Musk and Grimes before the song, which seemed wildly appropriate given that pair’s recent coupling (after all, one is an entrepreneur with lofty space travel ambitions and the other a kinda musical contemporary of JB’s). I thought it was brand new, but apparently this dropped on Polyvinyl’s singles series last year. It’s a riffy, guitar-based indie one that was pretty cool.
“12 Steps” was given a little more of a country flair, after which Zauner told a little story about her drunken alter-ego. The mood then shifted with the Roy Orbison-inspired but insecurity-laden “Boyish” and the wonderfully moody and searching “The Body Is a Blade.”
Towards the end of the set, having already played the “hits” and better deep cuts, it got even better when the band unleashed their cover of the Cranberries’ “Dreams”. Theirs is a great one and the crowd ate it up (as they’d been doing all night, really). I saw the Midwest indie/emo band Looming cover “Zombie” a couple months ago opening for Tigers Jaw, so it was cool to see both of the Cranberries’ biggest hits get some proficiently played live love after Dolores O’Riordan’s sad passing.
The fun “Everybody Wants to Love You” brought out the singer of Radiator Hospital to help out--I have to wonder if that’s actually him doing the backup vocals on the recorded version, in fact. They encored with the band’s biggest hit of ‘em all, really, “Machinist”, complete with spoken-word intro and animated dancing from Zauner, offering a fine finish to the night.
Set list (9:45-10:53):
- Diving Woman
- In Heaven
- The Woman That Loves You
- Road Head
- 12 Steps
- The Body Is a Blade
- Till Death
- This House
- Triple 7
- Dreams [The Cranberries cover]
- Everybody Wants to Love You [f/ Radiator Hospital’s Sam Cook-Parrott]