Review | Japanese Breakfast Cooked Up a Dreamy Show at the Madonna Inn

SASAMI Unleashed Intensity at Pink Landmark

Review | Japanese Breakfast Cooked Up a Dreamy Show at the Madonna Inn

SASAMI Unleashed Intensity at Pink Landmark

By Caitlin Kelley | November 16, 2021

It’s been a huge year for Michelle Zauner, the mastermind behind Japanese Breakfast. | Credit: Caitlin Kelley

It’s November 12, the night of Japanese Breakfast’s show at the Madonna Inn with opening act SASAMI. You’ve arrived at the Instagrammable pop-up to rule them all … except this “pink California landmark” has been around since 1958. Amid the photo op-ulence, you’ll find pink lamp posts, an extensive collection of Tiffany lamps, and a storybook-style exterior. 

Walking the path from Madonna Inn proper — the kitsch center of the universe — you try not to stumble on the roadside rubble as your surroundings are darkened by daylight savings time, save for the cars rushing past you. The glow of smartphone flashlights dot the 10-minute walk until you reach the entryway to the Alex Madonna Expo Center — which is flanked by large cherub statues — while horses whinny at either side of the stretch. The smell of manure hangs in the air as you climb the stairs to the sounds of Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do with It” booming over the speakers. 

Gone are the ballroom table settings seen on the venue’s website. It’s standing room only as SLO’s alt scene huddles around the barricade ahead of the opening act. You begin to wonder if this night really is the Lynchian fanfic that Music Twitter joked about. 


SASAMI paired her heaviest material with a healthy dose of playful theatrics. | Credit: Caitlin Kelley

Well, there was SASAMI, the mononymous solo project of Sasami Ashworth. 

The scream queen paired the intensity of her heaviest material with a healthy dose of playful theatrics. It was one for the goths, as her funereal entrance saw her shrouded in a bejeweled veil, while her bandmates donned black capes. The metalheads of BARISHI brought in the assist with Graham Brooks on guitar, Jon Kelley on bass, and Dylan Blake on drums — and there was, in fact, plenty of shredding.

This kooky collective put on such a heavy showcase … that the crowd was not prepared for at all. Let’s just say SASAMI summoned more chaos and grit than you’d expect from Serj Tankian on a cover of System of a Down’s “Toxicity.” It was a set that deserved at least two (2) walls of death from the relatively timid crowd — a sign that her upcoming album, Squeeze, will be worth checking out. 

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J-Brekkie’s Jubilation

It’s been a huge year for Michelle Zauner, the mastermind behind Big Indie mainstays Japanese Breakfast. She’s proven herself to be one of the most versatile artists of her generation with a wide range of projects in 2021. There’s the New York Times best-selling memoir, Crying in H Mart. She also ventured into gaming arrangements with the Sable soundtrack. Then, of course, there’s Jubilee, her third LP as Japanese Breakfast that functions as a lush and layered examination of joy. Those multi-hyphenations took shape onstage at the Madonna Inn on November 12. 

Not one to let an album sequencing go to waste, JB’s set opened on Jubilee’s first track, “Paprika.” The marching drum beat strode in above the lilting synths as Zauner banged a gong while dancing around the stage. She conjured her own “center of magic” with this lyrical fantasia dedicated to the “rush” of performance. 

Photographic evidence that Michelle Zauner banged a gong (and got it on). | Credit: Caitlin Kelley

For an album about “the ways we interact with joy,” “Paprika”’s core reference point is Susumu Hirasawa’s marching theme from Satoshi Kon’s surreal anime film of the same name — a tune that signaled the horrific ecstasy of the dream world encroaching on reality where participants lost all sense of self. The Dionysian transmogrified into the dystopian. Hell of a tone to set for a celebratory album. Still, the party raged on.

“Slide Tackle” was — and I don’t use this term lightly — a bop. This track rallied the most crowd engagement of the night as attendees pogo-ed up and down amid the funkification. Case in point: Adam Schatz’s sax solo killed it. 

But the still waters continued to run deep in these paradisal sound waves. “Kokomo, IN” plays on the Brian Wilson association with an abundance of surf-rock tropes, like the slide guitar, courtesy of Zauner’s bandmate-slash-husband, Peter Bradley. But the vibe is a bit more like the Beach Boys’ latter-day kitsch combined with the Submarine OST’s teenage angst. After all, the song is about a doomed young love. 

Highlights included “Glider,” Japanese Breakfast’s theme for the video game Sable, which Zauner introduced by jokingly urging the crowd to get in on that “XBOX Game Pass” action. Blue lights fittingly shone on the band as they offered up this twinkly wall of sound that would not be out-of-place on an ice level. The vocal loop presets glitched, while her real vox was at its most powerful here; some notes were held on this very night! During the encore, MZ introduced another track off the game OST, “Better the Mask,” which offered the most barebones instrumentation of the setlist as she reemerged onstage for a somber piano solo that slowly built into a richly textured ballad. 

There was also a faithful cover of the Cranberries’ “Dreams,” which inspired a crowd sing-along that nearly soared amid the muffling of mandatory masks. It was a moment that felt emblematic of the catharsis of hearing the internalized spaces of her music in such a communal setting.

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