Concert Review: Japanese Breakfast with Yo La Tengo


Artists: Japanese Breakfast with Yo La Tengo
Venue: Roadrunner Boston
Date: September 29, 2022

Susan and I attended our first concert since before the COVID pandemic, and it’s seems to be taking almost as long for me to write about it.  The headliner was Japanese Breakfast, the Philadelphia-based band lead by Michelle Zauner.  Opening was the veteran New Jersey indie rock band Yo La Tengo, who I’ve seen in concert three times before.  It may seem strange that a long-time act like Yo La Tengo would be the openers for a newer band like Japanese Breakfast, but it was clear that there’s a mutual admiration among the two bands and that they enjoyed sharing the ticket.

This was also our first visit to Roadrunner, a venue that opened earlier this year.  As a long time Boston resident, it felt kind of surreal that Roadrunner was among several shiny new buildings in an entire new neighborhood that was plopped on to Guest Street in Brighton while I wasn’t looking.  The venue has a large standing-room area on the floor in front of the stage with a standing-room mezzanine on three sides.  Simple and elegant.

Yo La Tengo played a nine song set, including two of my all-time favorite songs “Let’s Save Tony Orlando’s House” and “Black Flowers.”  They also played “Autumn Sweater” which may be their most famous song.  The multi-talented trio of Georgia Hubley, Ira Kaplan, and James McNew took turns on lead vocals and a variety of different instruments. They create a really big sound for just three people.  I got the sense that Kaplan would’ve enjoyed spending the night alone in a room with his guitar just as much as he would performing in front of hundreds of people.  Michelle Zauner and guest guitarist Kevin Micka joined the band for the final number “I Heard You Looking,” an extended instrumental jam.  I really admired the professionalism of the artists on stage when they went they suddenly all snapped from improvisation back into the tune.

Japanese Breakfast took the stage next, playing a set primarily made up of songs from the band’s most recent release Jubilee. They opened with “Paprika” during which Zauner struck a gong several times, the lights surrounding gone lit up exciting the audience each time. I should note here that the light design for the whole show was excellent. Susan, being on the short side, couldn’t see the gong and thought Zauner was holding a large bone.

The band followed with “Be Sweet,” my favorite song of Jubilee, so my desires were sated early. Zauner has a lot of charisma and energy so even though I’m only familiar with the most recent album, I thoroughly enjoyed their performance of songs from earlier albums as well as a couple of covers.  The band’s guitarist was also excellent, and he had several great solos, however I have not been able to locate his name.

The concert ended with Ira Kaplan returning to the stage to join Japanese Breakfast on an encore of “Diving Woman,” the opening track from the 2017 album Soft Sounds From Another Planet.  It featured another breakdown of improvisational noise from all the artists performing.  It was a great show and a good night out for all.

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Favorite Albums of All Time: 30-21


Having listened to every album on the Rolling Stone list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, I’m making my own list.  This list will be only 250 albums, although I had to make some tough cuts.  The list includes a mix of works of musical genius with the pure nostalgia of some albums I’ve loved throughout my life.  As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts about these albums and what your favorite albums are. I will continue the countdown every other Wednesday throughout 2022.

250-241 200-191 150-141 100-91 50-41
240-231 190-181 140-131 90-81 40-31
230-221 180-171 130-121 80-71
220-211 170-161 120-111 70-61
210-201 160-151 110-101 60-51

30

Artist: Amy Winehouse
Title: Back to Black
Year: 2006
Favorite Tracks:

  • Rehab
  • You Know I’m No Good
  • Just Friends
  • Back To Black
  • Tears Dry on Their Own

The First Time I Heard This Album …: 2006 or 2007

Thoughts: It’s a shame that tabloid headlines and her early death overshadow Amy Winehouse’s massive talent.  She was the cornerstone of a soul revival in the Oughts along with the likes of Adele, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, and Joss Stone and this album is a testament to that era.

Bonus Sounds:  The documentary Amy leans toward exploitative but contains footage of Winehouse developing her talent as well as how she was destroyed by the celebrity media complex.  It also includes the sweetest scene of her spending time with her idol Tony Bennet.


29

Artist: Harry Belafonte
Title: Belafonte at Carnegie Hall 
Year: 1959
Favorite Tracks:

  • Cotton Fields
  • John Henry
  • The Marching Saints
  • Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)
  • Jamaica Farewell
  • Mama Look a Boo Boo
  • Hava Nageela
  • Cu Cu Ru Cu Cu Paloma
  • Shennandoah
  • Matilda

The First Time I Heard This Album …: late 1980s

Thoughts: When I was growing up we had a collection of LPs and 45s from various relatives, and one treasure of my late Aunt Barbara was the Harry Belafonte collection.  This concert performance recorded in April 1959 features Belafonte’s interpretations of African American songs, Carribean calypso, and traditional folk tunes from around the world.

Bonus Sounds: The blockbuster Calypso (1956) was the first LP to sell over a million copies and kicked off a global calypso craze.  Not bad for someone who took up singing as a side gig when he couldn’t get acting parts.


28

Artist: Sigur Rós 
Title: Ágætis byrjun
Year: 1999
Favorite Tracks:

  • Svefn-g-englar
  • Starálfur
  • Ný batterí
  • Hjartað hamast (bamm bamm bamm)
  • Olsen Olsen

The First Time I Heard This Album …: circa 2005

Thoughts: The first album I ever heard by Sigur Rós remains the best.  The sweeping orchestral arrangements are cinematic in scope.  While I don’t understand the lyrics, many of which are in a language made up by Sigur Rós frontman Jonsi called Hopelandic, they still speak to me.  The title track is extra special since it was playing in the delivery room when my younger child was born and means “A Good Beginning.”

Bonus Sounds: I have a Music Discovery on Sigur Rós’ albums through 2016 and highly recommend their concert film Heima.


27

Artist: Janelle Monáe
Title: Dirty Computer
Year:  2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • Crazy, Classic, Life
  • Django Jane
  • Pynk
  • Make Me Feel
  • I Got the Juice
  • So Afraid
  • Americans

The First Time I Heard This Album …: 2018

Thoughts: Monáe’s masterpiece, so far, hit big in 2018 and is surprisingly only her third full-length album.  It’s Monáe’s most personal album and challenges the fears of our troubled times while celebrating women, Blackness, sexuality, gender identity, and even American identity.

Bonus Sounds: I wrote my very first Music Discovery about Janelle Monáe as well as a concert review from the Dirty Computer tour.


26

Artist: The Specials 
Title: The Specials
Year: 1980
Favorite Tracks:

  • Gangsters
  • A Message To You, Rudy
  • Nite Klub
  • Concrete Jungle
  • Too Much Too Young
  • Little Bitch

The First Time I Heard This Album …: early 90s

Thoughts: The debut album from the Two Tone ska band The Specials contains many of the band’s greatest songs and established the new genre of U.K. Ska.

Bonus Sounds: The band’s follow-up album More Specials (1980) took a strange turn into “Muzak” inspired music but is still interesting, while their more recent reunion album Encore (2019) is also pretty good.


25

Artist: The Rolling Stones
Title: Beggars Banquet
Year: 1968
Favorite Tracks:

  • Sympathy For the Devil
  • No Expectations
  • Parachute Woman
  • Street Fighting Man
  • Prodigal Son
  • Stray Cat Blues
  • Factory Girl
  • Salt of the Earth

The First Time I Heard This Album …: late 80s

Thoughts: The Rolling Stones were always best as a Blues band, and their best album sees them embracing roots music to create a rock & roll classic. While the Stones have never been an overtly political band, a lot of the songs on this album come from the perspective of working class people, which also makes it interesting.

Bonus Sounds: This is the third Stones’ album on my list so I’ll just reiterate that Out of Our Heads (1965), Aftermath (1966), Let It Bleed (1969), Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! (1970), Sticky Fingers (1971),  Exile on Main St. (1972), and Blue & Lonesome (2016) are all worth a listen


24

Artist: Stevie Wonder
Title: Talking Book 
Year: 1972
Favorite Tracks:

  • You Are the Sunshine of My Life
  • Superstition
  • Big Brother
  • Lookin’ For Another Pure Love
  • I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)

The First Time I Heard This Album …: Late 80s

Thoughts: This album has a timeless quality, it sounds like it could’ve been released this year. It must’ve been revelatory when people first heard it in 1972. Wonder experiments with numerous keyboards, synthesizers, and drums, continuing as a one-man band on many tracks, but also has numerous guest artists including Jim Gilstrap, Lani Groves, David Sandborn, Deniece Williams, Ray Parker, Jr., and Jeff Beck. Also, “Superstition” is one of the all-time great songs. It never fails to amaze me.

Bonus Sounds: This is the fourth of four Stevie Wonder albums on this list, more than any other artist, so you know you can grab any Stevie Wonder album from the 60s or 70s and you can’t go wrong!


23

Artist: Talking Heads
Title: Remain in Light
Year: 1980
Favorite Tracks:

  • Crosseyed and Painless
  • The Great Curve
  • Once in a Lifetime
  • Houses in Motion
  • Listening Wind

The First Time I Heard This Album …: Late 80s

Thoughts: Talking Heads incorporated Afrobeat sounds into their New Wave and art rock creating one of the seminal albums of the 1980s (as well as one of the defining music videos of the early MTV era).

Bonus Sounds: Beninese superstar Angélique Kidjo created an excellent cover of this entire album!


22

Artist: Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer
Title: Tanglewood Tree
Year: 2000
Favorite Tracks:

  • Happytown (All Right With Me)
  • Tanglewood Tree
  • The Mountain
  • Hey Conductor
  • Crocodile Man
  • Cat-Eye Willie Claims His Lover
  • Cowboy Singer

The First Time I Heard This Album …: 2000

Thoughts: When I ranked my favorite albums of all time in 2009, this was the number one album! It may seem like a demotion but really any of my top 25 could be number one and I have to rank them somehow.  The late Dave Carter wrote the mystical lyrics on this album while their partner Tracy Grammer provides harmony and fiddle.

Bonus Sounds: Two of the three albums released by Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer before Carter’s death made my Top 250, but the duo’s final album Drum Hat Buddha is also excellent.


21

Artist: Johnny Clegg & Savuka
Title: Cruel, Crazy, Beautiful World
Year:  1989
Favorite Tracks:

  • One (Hu)’ Man One Vote
  • Cruel, Crazy, Beautiful World
  • Jericho
  • Dela (I Know Why the Dog Howls at the Moon)
  • It’s An Illusion
  • Woman Be My Country
  • Warsaw 1941

The First Time I Heard This Album …: 1990

Thoughts:  They say the best music ever is what you were listening to when you were 17.  When I was 17, I was lucky enough to be listening to Johnny Clegg & Savuka.  The racially integrated band formed in South Africa during Apartheid and the music blended Western and African sounds with many lyrics in Zulu.  The album is politically charged yet hopeful.

Bonus Sounds: Before Savuka, there was Juluka, a band formed by Johnny Clegg and Sipho Mchunu that was one of the first multi-racial acts under apartheid and released several albums between 1979 and 1984.  I’m also fond of the 1993 Johnny Clegg and Savuka album Heat, Dust and Dreams which reflects on the exciting times after the release of Nelson Mandela and end of apartheid.