The presence of a gong is always exciting for me. The percussion instrument which dates back to sixth century China was mainly used to signal peasant workers back from the fields. In Japan, they used the gong to start sumo wrestling matches. In the eighteenth century, it finally worked its way to western civilization as a musical instrument for orchestras. I played the tambourine, crash cymbals, and drums in my junior high orchestra. I never got to play the exotic gong. I would see it behind the massive drum kits in rock bands. It thrilled me when they would finally play the songs that featured the gong like AC/DC’s Hell’s Bells, Metallica’s Whenever I May Roam, and The Bangles’ Walk Like an Egyptian. Therefore, it was a huge joy for me to see the gong center stage for Japanese Breakfast.
The band started with the song Paprika (inspired by the sci-fi Satoshi Kon film with the same name) featuring …. the gong. Within the first thirty-seconds, lead singer Michelle Zauner took a running strike with her mallet to create the legendary sound. It was struck throughout the song echoing over the crowd. The audience contemplated the lyrics about blending dreams with real life. I was just wondering if the gong would be used again.
Signs were placed around the theater requesting patrons to wear a mask. Zauner acknowledged it was the band’s fifth week of a six week tour. They simply wanted to complete the tour and keep everybody safe. Unlike my return trip on an airline from Florida, it appeared that everyone in the audience complied.
This year lead singer Michelle Zauner’s memoir Crying in H Mart was released. The main theme was her relationship with her dying Korean mother. Additionally, the memoir gave readers an insight to her relationship with her husband and fellow bandmate Peter Bradley. Japanese Breakfast’s first two albums were also about how Zauner dealt with her mother’s death. Their current album Jubilee focusses on joy. That’s why I personally think they have a gong center stage.
Wearing a sheer white dress adorned with flowers and ruffles, Zauner jumped from playing the electric guitar to keyboards throughout the evening. Bradley, who sported a dark suit and brown cowboy boots, also changed to similar instruments during the course of the night. His slide guitar playing was exceptional. Bass player and tour manager Deven Craige, drummer and co-producer Craig Hendrix, violinist Molly Germs, and multi-instrumentalist Adam Schatz helped recreate the lush sound from the Jubilee album.
In the middle of the set, Zauner played Dolly Parton’s Here You Come Again on the keyboard. I heard someone behind me reassure his girlfriend, “Parton is not like the country you hate. She’s classic country.” I imagine the audience was smiling underneath their masks as the charming song was played.
Another captivating moment was when Zauner sang the song Be Sweet directly to Bradley. She pleaded, “Be sweet to me, baby/I wanna believe in you, I wanna believe in something.” Near the end of the set, the song Everybody Wants to Love You from Japanese Breakfast’s debut album Psychopomp had the crowd jumping up and down following Zauner’s lead. More importantly, the gong was used again.
See you at the next show. I’ll be the one anticipating a gong.