Of all the gigs on the roster at Liverpool Music Week this year, Japanese Breakfast‘s was the one that stood out. So, on Halloween night, with the place festooned with cobwebs and a bloke on the door dressed as a zombie, we ventured downstairs to the underground cave that is EBGBs to find out more, with more than a little trepidation.
But we needn’t have worried. The first performer we caught was singer-songwriter Mary Miller, armed with an electric guitar, a sequencer and a laptop. As that setup suggests, the initial few songs are chill-wave numbers, very much in the vein of The XX. Melancholic and echoey waves of guitar are picked out over synthetic clicks and hums, with Mary’s soulful voice over the top. But later, the set is stripped back to leave just the guitar and voice, as a folksy and bluesy sound comes through. It’s startlingly good.
St. Jude the Obscure are rather better known than their name would suggest, so there’s already a substantial crowd for their appearance. Officially a duo – Adele Emmas on vocals and keyboards and Christian Sandford on guitar and keyboards – the pair play live with additional musicians to flesh out their sound. In so doing, they manage to create layers of cinematic, shimmering layers of dream pop. With strands of effect-laden guitar building around Adele’s voice, the sound has aspects of Arcade Fire’s tunesmithery and Kate Bush’s vocal style.
And so to Japanese Breakfast. The solo sideline of Little Big League’s Michelle Zauner, the name designed to conjure up images of “Asian exoticism and American culture”. The above may offer the daunting prospect of something pretentious and conceptual, but in truth Japanese Breakfast are the the most fun act of the night – and many other nights. A bouncy, ’90s pop-rock vibe, as psychy sounds dominate the early portion of the set, reminiscent of Echobelly.
Zauner is a livewire on stage, almost constantly pogoing and, at one stage, balancing on the bass drum to play a guitar solo. Her stage-presence makes the venue feel twice the size and her jokes about “goats that sound like Oprah” keep the crowd as entertained as her music. Later songs in the set veer towards Sugarcubes-era Björk and The Cure. They’re almost like prom night ballads in their flinty pop sound, but are also haunting and brittle, even as they sparkle. Halloween night ends on a high, with all our fears abated.