Folks, the time has come: this Friday brings us the kickoff event in a summer full of amazing outdoor sounds on Brown’s Island. Over the next two months, Venture Richmond will present seven different Friday nights of excellent music in an excellent location — in the middle of the river, in the heart of downtown.
The series begins tomorrow night with a performance from Japanese Breakfast, a dream-pop project led by Philadelphia-via-Oregon musician Michelle Zauner. In addition to being well-known as the creative genius behind Japanese Breakfast, though, Zauner has also received acclaim in recent years in response to her bestselling memoir, Crying In H Mart, released last year. The book is an unflinching tale of grief, the search for understanding between family members, and finding connection through cuisine. Zauner tells of her childhood struggles to find a place for herself in the world, the ways in which that struggle brought her into conflict with her mother, and her mother’s heartbreaking death of cancer. Throughout, she makes clear that, no matter what else might have been making her relationship with her mother more difficult at any particular time, the two of them always found connections through the Korean food that they both loved.
While Crying In H Mart doesn’t really talk much about Zauner’s musical career, it does help to understand the reasons why Japanese Breakfast came into existence. While she was living in the attic of her family’s home in Oregon, helping to care for her mother as her health worsened, she was working on the earliest Japanese Breakfast material, by herself in her room. Her mother’s voice actually appears on the first Japanese Breakfast album, Psychopomp, released in 2016, two years after her mother’s death.
Indeed, in some ways, that first Japanese Breakfast album was created as a way to confront the grief and depression she felt in the wake of her mother’s loss. This shows through in the gothic darkness and heavy mood of 2016 single “Jane Cum,” the video for which features Zauner and some friends performing pagan rituals in the woods, an invocation of grief and the confrontation of difficult emotions.
2017’s Soft Sounds From Another Planet showed Japanese Breakfast moving beyond the dark moods of their first album to embrace a more uplifting melodic indie sound that helped bring the group to more widespread attention. Zauner and her husband also developed a game, Japanese BreakQuest, to go along with the album, featuring MIDI versions of songs from Soft Sounds From Another Planet.
By the time of their 2021 third album, Jubilee, Japanese Breakfast were bigger than ever. By now, Zauner’s musical goals had changed, and even as she released a memoir that focused on grief, the new Japanese Breakfast album made an overt attempt to capture a joyful mood. Lead single “Be Sweet” is a surefire pop banger, incorporating an 80s New Wave bounce and electro-dance pulse alongside subtle psychedelic touches and proving itself an instant classic with the absolutely unforgettable pop confection that is its chorus. Meanwhile, the rest of the album steps back a bit from the stunning height that “Be Sweet” attains, in favor of a multi-layered sound that at times carries darkened 80s dancefloor vibes and at other times comes across like Beatlesque sunshine pop.
This Friday night at Friday Cheers, Zauner and her constantly shifting band — which has at times featured both her husband, Peter Bradley, and former members of her pre-Japanese Breakfast band, Little Big League — will present a complex sound that can’t easily be pinned down, but will always retain your attention. It’s sure to sound amazing as the sun goes down over the James.
If you don’t have your tickets for Japanese Breakfast at Brown’s Island, they’re quite a good deal at $10 a pop. Grab one for yourself, and maybe a couple more for some friends, by heading to the Friday Cheers page on Venture Richmond’s website. And be sure to check out the full lineup of Friday Cheers shows to come over the next couple of months. There’s plenty more goodness where this one came from.
Venture Richmond presents Friday Cheers featuring Japanese Breakfast, with special guest Abby Huston, at Brown’s Island on Friday, May 6. Doors open at 6 pm. Tickets are $10, and can be purchased here.