Despite torrential downpours and flooded streets, Union Transfer was packed last night for a sold out show headlined by Japanese Breakfast. The first opener was the Philly-based pop punk Radiator Hospital. Bed-headed and chronically-blushing, Sam Cook-Parrott wrapped himself around the mic in a wide-legged straddle, his voice pitched at a droning whine. The set primarily featured tracks from their latest release, The Songs You Like. LVL UP followed with a moody lo-fi set that contrasted pleasingly with the barbed edges of Radiator Hospital. Even with their mellow vibe and blasé attitude, the band unboxed some energetic head-bangers that had the crowd moshing.
The atmosphere was electric with anticipation when Michelle Zauner apparated, angelic in a white floral blazer, blue eyeshadow glittering in the serene light. She bounced around the stage bunny-like, her hi-top sneakers lighting up with every step. Her voice was silken and tender, backed by dreamy, seraphic synths. Zauner was accompanied by a three-piece band, including her husband Peter on bass and keyboard. Peter’s left foot was wrapped in a cast because the night before he had drunkenly dropped an amp on it. As a preface to “Till Death,” Zauner described waiting in the urgent care unit with him, ruminating on the painful moments of marriage. Before playing “12 Steps,” Zauner shared, “It’s named after the bar in South Philly, where I saw my husband for the first time. He was singing Billy Joel…it was a six-minute nightmare.” She called “Boyish” her ugly girl anthem, a song about feeling less-than.
The set was full of nostalgic quips and memories, Zauner expressing deep gratitude to be back in Philadelphia, surrounded by familiar faces. “I used to work coat check here,” she said, laughing. “It’s a very unfulfilling job. This is a full-circle moment for me.” The members of Little Big League joined Zauner for the last couple of songs. The band reminisced about a gig they played at the grimy DIY space Boy’s House. “After you’d finish your forty ounce Steel Reserve, which you could only stomach when you were eighteen, you would chuck it at the Wall of Destruction, and glass and beer would spray all over.” Zauner went on to describe feeling sick of sleeping on cat piss-stained couches, but at the same time feeling contented and full of love for her friends in the Philly DIY community. Zauner was dewy-eyed and emotional by the end, evoking empathy from the audience. She reached out a lithe, tattooed arm, interlocking fingers with a stranger in a sweet moment of gentleness. — MARIAH HALL