Above: Some amazing photos of the show by Jeaninne Kaufer!
Warning: this article is just me being bitter about the audience at the Japanese Breakfast show. If you were there, don't take any of this too personally. And if you are SASAMI or Japanese Breakfast, I am sorry the crowd kinda sucked!
For nearly the past two weeks, I have been super hesitant to post this article. I was worried it would come across as overcritical or mean-spirited against those reading this, the music venue, or even the musicians themselves. But the more I thought about it, I realized none of that was necessarily true, and I still felt that I needed to say something about this show. So, from this point on, I'm sorry if it sounds like I am singling out or making fun of people, because that is not my goal here at all! Rather, I'm writing this as an observation of the Japanese Breakfast and SASAMI show here in Tucson last week from the perspective of a fan that really wanted to have a good time, but found it really hard to do so.
For those who didn't go or are unaware of these two artists, Japanese Breakfast played at the Club Congress Plaza on November 3 as a stop on her tour supporting her third album, Jubilee (in my opinion, her best record yet), with SASAMI opening for her. Japanese Breakfast's core member, Michelle Zauner, has been having a breakout year. After being well known in the indie rock community for most of the 2010's through her Japanese Breakfast project and her former band Little Big League, Zauner has arguably become one of indie's most prominent figures since the turn of the decade. This year alone she released Jubilee, soundtracked a video game, and published her debut book Crying in H Mart: A Memoir, which debuted at #2 on The New York Times nonfiction best-seller list. She has played in Tucson before, performing at 191 Toole with Snail Mail as her opener in 2018. This time around, she brought SASAMI on tour, who is quickly shaping up to be one of the most exciting artists of 2022 with her upcoming album Squeeze teasing a blend of her previously acclaimed indie rock with metal music.
The show on November 3 started around 9PM, with SASAMI playing first. I enjoyed her self-titled debut album when it came out in 2019, but I had not been keeping up with her for a while, and I was especially unaware of the new direction she is taking with her upcoming second LP. Immediately as the first song started, my expectations were completely shattered. The live sound was much heavier, noisier, and aggressive than the recorded material I was familiar with, and I loved every second of it. It stands as easily the most passionate performance I have seen since concerts have started again. SASAMI kept her set extremely engaging by playing a mix of her self-titled, unreleased material, and what felt like improvised noise passages at times, with SASAMI reciting parts of Michael Crichton's Sphere. On top of that, a System of a Down AND a Daniel Johnston cover within the same 10 song set. Even just being in the audience felt cathartic and affirming that embracing what makes you different isn't only okay, but it's cool as hell too.
Unfortunately, something was off at the Club Congress plaza that night. SASAMI's set was amazingly energetic, the kind of music you want to get up and jump around to. However, no one was jumping... or even moving. The audience seemed like it was all in competition with each other to see who could appear the most disinterested. Phones out scrolling social media, people's backs turned to the stage, and people cutting through the audience just to get to the bar were overabundant during the opening act. It felt like something I had never really seen before, an audience being disrespectful to a TOURING band. I wanted to make my way to the front of the crowd so I could at least enjoy the set without being in the way of people who were *obviously* not there to have a good time, but even then, these same people were dead set on keeping their spot at the front and making it impossible to move upwards. As sad as I was by this, I just accepted that it was probably because many of them really wanted to have a good spot once Japanese Breakfast started playing. I was totally okay with people wanting to have a spot up close more than me but... at least don't be rude to the opening act?? SASAMI's set ended, the venue's PA system started playing the pre-show playlist again, and I was left with this apologetic feeling towards SASAMI and her band, having played an amazing set to a crowd that largely seemed to not care.
I assumed Japanese Breakfast's set would be much more popular with the audience, so I was still retaining a sense of hope for the night. In between the two sets, I caught up with some friends I recognized in the crowd and listened in on the conversations around me. All around, I sensed disinterest, the type of disinterest that you project when you think you are intelligent enough to understand something, but too cool to like it. "Well, that was good" being voiced in the same way you would compliment your little brother's first middle school band performance. You don't really think it was good, you just say it anyway, except this felt so inappropriate following what was a legitimately great performance. Maybe the worst comments I overheard while eavesdropping in were the claims that SASAMI sounded "just like Mitski". It felt like the cheapest comparison imaginable. Comparing two women of color with electric guitars simply because they are two women of color with electric guitars. To others this may not seem like a big deal, but as a latino student at the University of Arizona, this feels unsettlingly similar to the types of micro-aggressive and implicitly racist comments I hear day after day on campus. I don't want to make my entire article about my distaste for these comments and comparisons, but it felt essential to, in an article about the discomfort I experienced at this show, address the further discomfort I felt as a person of color in a predominantly white space where other people of color were the entertainment of the night.
Right before Japanese Breakfast's set began, I moved more towards the middle of the audience to hopefully be in an area of more active fans. The crowd seemed slightly more cheerful, but still relatively stiff as Michelle Zauner and her band opened with Paprika, the first track on Jubilee. I didn't think too much of it since Paprika isn't exactly the most energetic song in the world. But up next was Be Sweet, the big single from Jubilee which has quickly become one of Zauner's most popular songs. Once again, crowd was stiff, but this time, a wall of vertically extending arms and cellphones entrapped me. I'm usually not one to complain about cellphone usage at concerts like I know a lot of people are, but it felt equally overwhelming and annoying to see so many around and above me from the same crowd that seemed to not care just 5 minutes ago. The next hour was filled with the audience switching between either being as dormant as possible or whipping out their phones in mass.
Zauner and her band finished their set (before a two-song encore with one of their earliest singles, Everybody Wants To Love You. For this track, and this track alone, the audience was moving and dancing… like people do at a concert. I was glad I got to see even two and a half minutes of energy before the show ended, but the crowd’s energy towards Japanese Breakfast for the rest of the set felt somewhat disrespectful. I left the show somewhat gloomy. I had just watched SASAMI and Japanese Breakfast put on what I thought was the best performance I had seen since concerts started again, but the crowd seemed totally against displaying any type of emotion or excitement for nearly the whole thing.
A few days afterwards, I asked my good friend Nick, a student at NAU, what he thought of the band’s tour stop in Flagstaff, and if the crowd was similarly disappointing. Here’s what he had to say:
*some typos, sorry haha!
While it is nice to hear that Michelle and SASAMI received appreciation from far more enthusiastic crowds later on in the Jubilee tour, I just wish the same could have been said for the Tucson show.